Every artist has favorite works of art, and this painting (part of a triptych) was one of my earliest favorites.  It belongs to the National Gallery of Art in Washington. Only long after my first acquaintance with this painting did I learn about St. Anthony of Padua, the painting’s central character.  He is the patron saint of “lost things” and missing persons.  In this panel, the saint (who would become a Franciscan monk), begins his vocation by first giving away his wealth to the poor.

From the beginning I immediately loved the picture for its color and stark composition.  The pale orange-pink of the facade behind St. Anthony is very lovely in its warmth and simplicity.  In the architectural punctuation of gothic windows and vertical columns and the criss-cross of iron grills over the ground floor windows, the painting has interesting and soothing structures.  The artist has silhouetted St. Anthony against the most prominent of the arches, where he greets a reception line of beggars. St. Anthony can also be seen coming down the stairs inside the building in the deep background.  Like many early Renaissance pictures, following traditions of Gothic art, actors can be seen in more than one moment of time.

For me this picture was a bridge leading eventually to modern painting.  I knew nothing about Henri Matisse, when I first began my study of art, and only much later did Matisse become one of my favorite artists.  But the simplicity of design and the uses of broad flat color in this painting and in the other panels of the triptych, taught me to appreciate those qualities.  Only much later did I make a connection from this kind of art to that of modern artists like Matisse and Picasso.

[Top of the post:  Saint Anthony Distributing His Wealth to the Poor, c. 1430/1435
tempera on panel, attributed to the Master of the Osservanza, perhaps (?) Sano di Pietro (formerly attributed to Sasetta and assistant), National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC]

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