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Baptism of St Zenobius and His Appointment as Bishop

Sandro Botticelli

Baptism of St Zenobius and His Appointment as Bishop

Sandro Botticelli
  • Date: 1500 - 1505
  • Style: Early Renaissance
  • Genre: religious painting
  • Media: panel, tempera
  • Tag: Christianity, saints-and-apostles, St.-Zenobius
  • Dimensions: 66.5 x 149.5 cm
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Scenes from the Life of Saint Zenobius is a series of paintings by the Italian Renaissance artist Sandro Botticelli. Four panels from the series survive, which are now in three different museums. Each depicts three or more incidents from the life of Zenobius, an early Bishop of Florence who perhaps died in 417. The works are all in tempera on wood, and around 66 cm (26 in) high, though their length varies rather more, from about 149 cm to 182 cm (55 to 72 in).

The National Gallery in London has two panels. One of these, Four Scenes from the Early Life of Saint Zenobius shows (left to right): Zenobius rejects the bride chosen by his parents, then walks away; Zenobius is baptized; his mother is baptized by the bishop of Florence; he is consecrated as Bishop of Florence by Pope Damasus (this in Rome). The second London panel shows Three Miracles of Saint Zenobius. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has a panel with another three miracles, also called by them Three Miracles of Saint Zenobius. The Gemäldegalerie in Dresden has a panel showing a miracle in three scenes, and the death of the saint.

It is generally agreed that the paintings come from the last phase of Botticelli's career, perhaps c. 1500–1505; some authorities regard them as possibly the artist's latest surviving works.

The New York panel shows: at left Zenobius encounters the funeral procession of a youth, and restores him to life. At centre Zenobius finds a group weeping at the death of a porter who had carried the relics of saints (shown as skeletons in a coffin) over the Apennine range, and restores him to life, with the help of the relics. At right a sub-deacon called Eugenius (who also became a saint) is shown three times: in the bishop's palace interior Zenobius gives him a cup of salt and water, which he carries and then administers to a female relative who had died without receiving the Last Rites, which brings her back to life.

The London miracle panel has three scenes. At left, two young men had treated their mother badly, and been cursed by her. Zenobius exorcises them. At centre: Zenobius restores to life the son of a "noble lady from Gaul". She had left him with the bishop while she made a pilgrimage to Rome, and he died. At right, outside the cathedral he restores the sight of a blind beggar, who had promised to become a Christian in that event.

In the Dresden panel a single miracle is shown in three scenes, from left to right. A young man is run over by a cart and killed. His distraught mother, a widow, carries him to the church. He is resurrected by a prayer of Zenobius (not shown) and reunited with his mother. At right, Zenobius on his death bed.

Some scholars, including Martin Davies, thought that the surviving series may not be complete, since one of the better known miracles of the saint, where a dead elm burst into leaf after being touched by the saint's bier, is not shown in any of these scenes. But this was before the written Life of Zenobius by Fra Clemente Mazzo (1475) was identified as the source, rather than another version; the paintings clearly follow the sequence, details and chapter divisions of this, and the sequence appears complete.

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