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Saint Nicholas of Tolentino Saving a Shipwreck, 1457

About the Artwork

This small panel painting shows Saint Nicholas of Tolentino in the miraculous act of saving a ship wrecked in a storm. Made in 1457 by Giovanni di Paolo, the panel was part of a large altarpiece that was dedicated to Saint Nicholas of Tolentino and consisted of a central image of the saint flanked by smaller paintings depicting events in his life and miracles he performed.

The altarpiece was in a church in Montepulciano (a town south of Siena) at which Augustinian friars worshiped daily. Saint Nicholas was himself an Augustinian, a member of the religious order of friars dedicated to following the monastic rule established by Saint Augustine. As they prayed in front of this altarpiece, the friars could enjoy the beauty of the paintings and feel proud that Saint Nicholas of Tolentino also came from the Augustinian order. Each panel reminded the monks of a different miracle or virtue attributed to the saint they revered and may have encouraged them to live by his example.

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