CHAPTER 4: Disassembled

Large altarpieces and small devotional paintings from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance often comprise multiple panels of Christian imagery. The center panel usually represents subjects such as the Madonna and Child and major events from the lives of Jesus and Mary, and the lateral panels depict important saints. Small narrative scenes from the holy figures’ lives would be placed below these main images. As complete works in magnificent architectural frames, these served not only as visual aids for prayer but also as “books for those who could not read,” as Pope Gregory I (ca. 540–604 CE) mentioned when he encouraged the use of religious images. Taken out from their original settings, however, many of these works were dismantled, and their components dispersed.

Image credit:
Giovanni Ambrogio Bevilacqua
Saint Jerome, circa 1495-1500 (detail)
Tempera with gold leaf on wood panel
The Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin
The Suida-Manning Collection

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