Saint Lawrence Liberates Souls from Purgatory
Lorenzo di Niccolò
A horizontal panel that supports the main altarpiece, a predella often presents narrative scenes from the life of the saint or holy figure who is represented in the main image above it. In this example, Lorenzo illustrates the life of Saint Lawrence, a third-century deacon of the Catholic Church and an early martyr.
At an undetermined time and for reasons that remain unclear, this predella was removed from its altarpiece and cut into several pieces. Scholars have reconstructed the approximate sequence, following art-historical precedent, and arranged the scenes according to the devotional function of the predella rather than providing a strict chronology of events. This ordering places the widest panel—the depiction of the martyred Lawrence liberating the souls in Purgatory—as the central scene in the legend of the saint. During the early Renaissance, the Catholic faithful frequently invoked Lawrence to intercede for these penitent souls.
The arrangement of the panels is asymmetrical—with two scenes to the left of the central panel and three to its right—suggesting that an episode may be missing. With the exception of the martyrdom scene, Lorenzo consistently represents the saint with a halo, tonsured head, and pink robe, making him instantly recognizable throughout.
Tempera and tooled gold on poplar panel
13 5/16 x 26 5/8 in. (33.8 x 67.6 cm)
Frame: 16 x 26 5/8 in. (40.6 x 67.6 cm) (show scale)
Gift of A. Augustus Healy
This item is not on view
Lorenzo di Niccolò (Italian, Florentine, documented 1393-1412). Saint Lawrence Liberates Souls from Purgatory, ca. 1412. Tempera and tooled gold on poplar panel, 13 5/16 x 26 5/8 in. (33.8 x 67.6 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of A. Augustus Healy, 03.75 (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 03.75_SL1.jpg)
overall, 03.75_SL1.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph
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What is being given to the woman?
I don't know the answer exactly, but the tortures of the damned in scenes of Hell and the Last Judgment are appropriate to the nature of their sins--the gluttonous wallow in a mire and the lecherous burn eternally in a sulfurous pit. The ball could be a reference to a sin. Whatever it symbolizes, this visual was likely obvious to the artist's contemporaries.
All of the other figures are being tortured in some capacity, so whatever the ball is, it can't be a pleasant sign!