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Part of European Paintings
Date: carving ca. 1300, painting ca. 1310–20Accession Number: 1982.60.399
Giovanni di Paolo (Giovanni di Paolo di Grazia) (Italian, Siena 1398–1482 Siena)
Date: 1454Accession Number: 32.100.76
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Throughout the fourteenth century and into the fifteenth, the principal task of a painter was to create a large, multipanel altarpiece for a church or convent. The appearance and structure varied by local tradition. In Italy, an altarpiece would be constructed of individual panels and have pinnacles and a base—as in the architecture of a Gothic cathedral. In Spain, it would be an enormous, multistory construction (retablo) that filled the back wall of a church or chapel. In the Netherlands and Germany, it tended to have hinged wings, allowing the center image to be hidden from view except on feast days. Altarpieces were at the core of devotional practice. Lit by candles, they served as the backdrop for the performance of mass, their beauty enhanced by instrumental and vocal music. Devotional art aimed to connect viewers with a sacred realm and to remind them of those who had died for their faith in ages past. Many of the individual panels in the Museum's collection are fragments of altarpieces.
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