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© The Frick Collection
Piero della Francesca  (1411/13 - 1492)
St. John the Evangelist, c. 1454-1469
tempera on poplar panel
52 3/4 x 24 1/2 in. (134 x 62.2 cm)
Purchased by The Frick Collection, 1936
Accession number: 1936.1.138
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Enamels Room (132)
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Commentary: In 1454 Angelo di Giovanni di Simone d’Angelo ordered from Piero a polyptych for the high altar of S. Agostino in Borgo Sansepolcro. The commission specified that this work, undertaken to fulfill the wish of Angelo’s late brother Simone and the latter’s wife Giovanna for the spiritual benefit of the donors and their forebears, was to consist of several panels with “images, figures, pictures, and ornaments.” The central portion of the altarpiece is lost, but four lateral panels with standing saints, St. Michael the Archangel (National Gallery, London), St. Augustine (Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon), St. Nicholas of Tolentino (Museo Poldi-Pezzoli, Milan), and the present panel have survived. Although the venerable figure in the Frick painting was given no identifying attributes, he is presumed to represent St. John the Evangelist, patron of the donors’ father and of Simone’s wife.

Evidence from a payment made to Piero in 1469 suggests that the altarpiece was finished late that year, fifteen years after the original contract. The lengthy delay resulted no doubt from Piero's many other commitments during this period, when he traveled to towns all across Central Italy and contracted obligations to patrons more important and more exigent than the family of Angelo di Giovanni and the Augustinian monks of his own small town, Borgo Sansepolcro. But it is obvious as well from the character of his art that Piero was not a quick or facile painter. His deep interest in the theoretical study of perspective and geometry and his pondered, contemplative approach to his paintings are apparent in all his work, including the panels of the S. Agostino altarpiece.

Source: Art in The Frick Collection: Paintings, Sculpture, Decorative Arts, New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1996.
Collections: S.Agostino, Borgo Sansepolcro. Duke of Cardona (?). Austrian Imperial Academy, Milan, early nineteenth century (?). Miller zu Aicholz, Vienna, to February 1936 [in the von Miller family for more than one generation; sold by family heirs]. Knoedler. Frick, 1936.

Source: Paintings in The Frick Collection: French, Italian and Spanish. Volume II. New York: The Frick Collection, 1968.

Updated by the Curatorial Department in October 2008.