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Thursday, November 08, 2007

The Assassination of Saint Peter Martyr

Within a short distance of each other in Central London are two versions of the one theme: both by Giovanni Bellini and/or his workshop. It is interesting to compare and contrast the two versions.

One is at Trafalgar Square at the National Gallery, London. The other is in The Courtauld Institute in The Strand.



Bellini, Giovanni c.1430-1516
Assassination of Saint Peter Martyr (c. 1507)
Egg tempera and oil on wood
99.7 x 165.1 cm.
The National Gallery, London


Inscribed on the small piece of paper in the right corner (much retouched, with uncertain spelling, and possibly false): Ioannes/Bellinus/.p[inxit].




Bellini, Giovanni (workshop of) c.1430-1516
Assassination of Saint Peter Martyr (c. 1509)
Oil on panel
Height: 68.1 cm; Width: 100 cm
Courtauld Institute of Art Gallery, London
The Courtauld version once had the date 1509 on its reverse.





Landscape with the martyrdom of Saint Peter Martyr (recto)
Pen and ink on paper
Height: 20.8 cm; Width: 27.6 cm
Courtauld Institute of Art Gallery, London



X-rays of the National Gallery painting show that the stance of Peter Martyr's murderer was changed from upright to stooping.

Drawings made by Bellini for the new figure groups must have been reused as the basis of a workshop version at the Courtauld Institute, London. The four central figures of the Courtauld version repeat exactly the outlines of those in the National Gallery picture.

The Courtauld version once had the date 1509 on its reverse. The National Gallery picture, perhaps painted with assistance, probably dates earlier, to about 1507.

The woodsmen in the background chopping trees (which bleed in the Courtauld version) are intended to remind us of the way in which the saint was killed.


By the 1480s Giovanni Bellini had become a leading master in all types of painting practised in 15th-century Venice. He also oversaw a technical revolution in the art of painting, involving the gradual abandonment of the traditional Italian use of egg tempera in favour of the technique of oil painting pioneered in the Netherlands. It was thanks to Giovanni Bellini that the Venetian school of painting was transformed during the later 15th century from one mainly of local significance to one with an international reputation.


The story of Saint Peter Martyr, a Dominican friar and inquisitor, is told in the 'Golden Legend'.

Saint Peter of Verona, O.P. also known as Peter Martyr (1206 – April 6, 1252), was a 13th century Dominican preacher and Grand Inquisitor in Italy.

He was born at Verona, a son of Cathars, adherents of the dualist faith which had many adherents in northern Italy in the thirteenth century. He went to a Catholic school, and later to the University of Bologna, where Peter is said to have maintained his orthodoxy and at the age of fifteen, met Saint Dominic. Peter joined the Order of the Friars Preachers (Dominicans) and became a celebrated preacher throughout northern and central Italy.

He was energetic in seeking out heresy and punishing the offenders.

He was killed on 6 April 1252, when returning from Como to Milan by Cathars. According to legend, a man called Carino who with some other Cathars had designed the attack struck his head with an axe, and then gave Peter's companion Dominic several fatal wounds.

It is told that, rising to his knees, Peter recited the first article of the Symbol of the Apostles, and offering his blood as a sacrifice to God he dipped his fingers in it and wrote on the ground the words: "Credo in Unum Deum". The assassin then pierced his heart.

His assassin, Carino, eventually became a Dominican at Forlì and is the subject of a local cult as "Blessed Carino of Balsamo".

Many miracles are attributed to him when living, and even more after his martyrdom.

He was canonized by Pope Innocent IV on March 9, 1253 after an interval of only 337 days, making him the fastest papally canonized saint in history.