Garofalo (Benvenuto Tisi) and Dosso Dossi, The Costabili Polyptych

Circa 1514
Created for the Church of Sant'Andrea, Ferrara, Italy
Pinacoteca Nazionale, Ferrara, Italy

In the central portrait Mary sits on a throne with a naked Jesus on her lap. He holds a mappa mundi orb symbolizing his lordship over the world. The boy that Mary is patting on the head is the child St. John the Baptist, portrayed as usual with curly golden hair. The angels above the throne hold the phrases DEUS FORTIS and PRINCEPS PACIS, from Isaiah 9:6, "For a child is born to us, and a son is given to us, and the government is upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called, Wonderful, Counsellor, God the Mighty [deus fortis], the Father of the world to come, the Prince of Peace [princeps pacis]." Isaiah 9:6 provides the Introit of the Masses for Christmas Day.1

Right and left of the throne are two couples whom the Pinacoteca's label identifies as SS. Joachim and Anna (the parents of Mary) and Elizabeth and Zacharias (the parents of John the Baptist). Standing before the couples are two young people, possibly saints but not identified by any attributes. The one on the right covers his mouth and looks skyward while the one on the left returns the gaze of the viewer.

Below in the foreground are three saints: Andrew (identified by the cross), John the Evangelist (beardless, writing the Book of Revelation as he looks heavenward), and Jerome. The latter is identified by a patch of red cloth at his right foot, a skull beneath his left foot, and a much-fingered book in his hands. In portraits of Jerome in his cell skulls and books are traditional fixtures, as well as a red hat or some other sort of red garb.

In the panels flanking this central composition are St. Sebastian on the left (naked, tied to a tree, and pierced by arrows) and St. George on the right in contemporary armor, with his sword piercing the corpse of the dragon. Fiorenza argues that Sebastian represents the torment that Pope Julius II had inflicted on Ferrara by making war and imposing an interdict a papal order forbidding the administration of the sacraments in a specified place and that George, the city's patron, represents its emergence after Julius's defeat at Ravenna in April of 1512, his death the following February, and his successor's lifting of the interdict in March. Fiorenza suggests that the mottos held by the angels and the fire in the Augustine panel also refer to this turn of events.

Above Sebastian in the upper left is St. Ambrose, identified by his episcopal garb and the little flail on the ledge at his feet. The figure across from Ambrose is identified by the Pinacoteca's label as St. Augustine, wearing the habit of the Eremitani Augustinians who occupied the church of Sant'Andrea, the order that he inspired. It is unusual for Augustine to be pictured other than in episcopal finery; Fiorenza suggests this relates to the rivalry between the Eremitani and the Canons Regular, who claimed Augustine as their founder.

At the very top of the entire polyptych is a panel with a somewhat damaged image of the Resurrected Christ. Ferrara's victory at Ravenna took place on Easter Sunday in 1512.

View this photograph of the entire polyptych in full resolution.

Read more about images of St. Augustine, St. Ambrose, St. Sebastian, St. George, St. Andrew, St. John the Evangelist, St. Jerome, St. Anne, St. Joachim, St. Zacharias, The Resurrection, and The Madonna and Child.

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

1 Fiorenza, 267. Missale Romanum, 99-100. Sarum Missal, 56.