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Art Pick of the Week: St. Benedict Restores Life to a Young Monk

July 15th, 2019

Giovanni del Biondo, St. Benedict Restores Life to a Young Monk, late 14th century. Tempera and gold leaf on panel, Overall: 33.7 x 37.5 cm. Gift of A.L. Koppel, 1953. Image © 2018 Art Gallery of Ontario.

When looking at this week’s Art Pick – Giovanni del Biondo’spainting St. Benedict Restores Life to a Young Monk – many things may catch your eye. Perhaps it’s the figures, the colours or the gold leaf that depicts the halo around St. Benedict’s head emphasizing holiness.

These are fantastic details, but if you look a little closer at this 14th century painting, located on Level 1 in the Reuben Wells Leonard Memorial Gallery (Gallery 117), you might notice something else – a story coming to life.

The artist used a technique known as continuous narrative, which refers to multiple images of the same people engaging in different activities to portray events over time. In del Biondo’s painting, this shows the story of the premature death of a young monk (at the hands of Satan, no less!) and his resurrection by St. Benedict.

To better understand the story, look to the details in the painting’s background.

Giovanni del Biondo, St. Benedict Restores Life to a Young Monk (detail), late 14th century. Tempera and gold leaf on panel, Overall: 33.7 x 37.5 cm. Gift of A.L. Koppel, 1953. Image © 2018 Art Gallery of Ontario

Examine the pile of bricks in the upper left corner and you’ll see a tangle of limbs in the rubble. It’s the young monk, crushed to death by a wall that was toppled onto him by Satan (one of the more theatrical demons in the AGO Collection). From there, shift your eye to the front of the painting to reach the story’s conclusion, St. Benedict (standing in front of the door to a monastery) performs a miracle, bringing the monk back to life.

Giovanni del Biondo, St. Benedict Restores Life to a Young Monk (detail), late 14th century. Tempera and gold leaf on panel, Overall: 33.7 x 37.5 cm. Gift of A.L. Koppel, 1953. Image © 2018 Art Gallery of Ontario

In art, continuous narratives tell a story and add a sense of drama. If the painting only focused on the monk’s death, or only his resurrection, we would lose half the story and it wouldn’t feel as theatrical. Del Biondo offers an emotional tale from start to finish.

See this painting on your next visit and stay tuned each week for a new Art Pick.

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