Initial S: The Conversion of Saint Paul

Pisanelloabout 1440–1450

The J. Paul Getty Museum

The J. Paul Getty Museum
Los Angeles, United States

In this closely trimmed historiated initial S from a gradual, the illuminator represented Saul's dramatic conversion to Christianity. Dressed in a soldier's helmet and armor, Saul tumbles to earth, his horse collapsing beneath him. Though the artist omitted the rest of the biblical account, in which Saul changes his name to Paul and takes up an evangelical Christian mission, the initial's viewers would have been familiar with the story. In the top half of the initial, another soldier, seated erect on a more elaborately liveried steed, wears a fancy hat and tunic trimmed in green, white, and red, the colors of both the Gonzaga and Este families. Given his visual precedence in the image, this man may have been the book's patron, commissioning the gradual for use in his family's private chapel or for an ecclesiastical foundation under his protection.

Interplay between the naturalistic and decorative elements in the initial adds visual tension to the miniature. The artist represented the imposing physical presence of the horses, including details such as the horseshoes and armor and subtly modeling the surfaces, such as the animals' coats. He then harmoniously integrated these carefully observed figures and their details within the artificial constraints of the shape of the letter S.


  • Title: Initial S: The Conversion of Saint Paul
  • Creator: Pisanello, Master of the Antiphonal Q of San Giorgio Maggiore
  • Date Created: about 1440–1450
  • Location Created: Veneto (probably), Italy; Verona (possibly), Italy
  • Physical Dimensions: Leaf: 14.1 × 8.9 cm (5 9/16 × 3 1/2 in.)
  • Type: Detached leaf
  • External Link: Find out more about this object on the Museum website.
  • Medium: Tempera colors, gold leaf, gold paint, silver leaf, and ink on parchment
  • Terms of Use: Open Content
  • Number: 91.MS.5.verso
  • Culture: Italian
  • Credit Line: The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Ms. 41, verso
  • Creator Display Name: Attributed to Pisanello (Italian, by 1395 - about 1455) Attributed to the Master of the Antiphonal Q of San Giorgio Maggiore (Italian, about 1440 - about 1470)
  • Classification: Manuscripts (Documents)

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