Saint Michael the Archangel

Bernardo Zenale (Treviglio, Bergamo documented from 1477 - Milan 1526)
1490 c.
B6. Contini Bonacossi - Bellini
Tempera and oil on panel
Contini Bonacossi No. 10

The Archangel Michael is shown standing victorious over the devil, whom he stabs with his sword. In his left hand he holds scales with which he weighs the souls of the dead. The devil, depicted as a monstrous dragon-like creature, seems to reach out a hand towards the scales to grab the damned soul, while the blessed soul looks up in prayer.

The background features classical architecture on the left-hand side. This painting of Saint Michael was originally created for the side panel of an altarpiece that also included a panel depicting the holy monk and donor – which is also on display in the Uffizi (Contini Bonacossi Inv. No. 9) – and the Madonna enthroned among saints, which is currently on display in the Spencer Museum of Art in Lawrence (USA). The three panels share a similar architectural framework, a sort of loggia under which the sacred figures are placed.

The altarpiece, perhaps intended for the church of a Cistercian settlement or the Humiliati Friars, is the work of an important Renaissance painter from Lombardy: Bernardo Zenale. The painting contains certain elements that characterised Lombard painting in the late fifteenth century, namely a strictly perspective layout, solemn classical architecture, sculptural figures, and a realistic rendering of features, expressions, and objects.

The two panels are currently on display in the Uffizi and belonged to Gustavo Frizzoni's collection in Bergamo before being purchased by Alessandro Contini Bonacossi in the 1930s. The panel featuring an enthroned Madonna – which is now on display in the United States and also belongs to the Contini Bonacossi Collection – was sold by an art dealer to the American magnate Samuel H. Kress in around 1935.

Daniela Parenti