Andrea Mantegna, St. Luke Altarpiece

Tempera on panel
Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan

The altarpiece was created for a Benedictine monastery in Padua named for St. Justina, who is portrayed at the right end of the bottom register. She is identified by the palm branch and the short sword in her breast (see detail), a reference to her martyrdom in Padua.

In the central panel St. Luke writes his gospel. His primary attribute, the ox or calf, is absent. In keeping with the Benedictine emphasis of the altarpiece, Mantegna has provided him with a tonsure.

Above St. Luke, two saints flank an image of the Man of Sorrows. The panel to the far right of that portrays St. Julian the Hospitaller as a young noble. His attribute is a wrapped sword, held downward as in many of his portraits. The palm branch in his left hand confuses him with the martyr St. Julian of Auvergne.

To the left of St. Luke is a portrait of St. Prosdocimus, according to legend the first bishop of Padua and the man who baptized St. Justina there. The ewer in his right hand is his attribute and refers to that baptism.

Above St. Narcissus is a portrait of St. Jerome. His left hand points to his breast and his right holds a stone, a reference to the penances he underwent to get rid of lurid thoughts. He is dressed in red as usual.

The two other saints pictured have Benedictine habits and carry the palm branches signifying martyrdom. The only Benedictine martyrs who predate the altarpiece and are not bishops are St. Giovanni de Surdis Cacciafronte and St. Porcarius.1 Presumably the saint to the right of the Man of Sorrows group is Benedict himself. Mitres were accorded only to highly influential abbots, but that would describe St. Benedict.

I have been unable to identify the saint on the far left. He is tonsured, wears a deacon's dalmatic over an alb, and carries a white banner with a red cross.

Read more about St. Luke, St. Justina of Padua, St. Julian, St. Jerome, and the Man of Sorrows.

Photographed at the museum by Richard Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.

1 Wikipedia, s.v. "Benedictine martrys." For St. Giovanni de Surdis Cacciafronte, feast day March 16, see Butler, I, 610-11. For St. Porcarius, feast day August 12, see Butler, III, 314.