This painting represents an episode in the life of Saint Benedict. Having retired to live in a cave on Mount Subiaco, he was tormented by the devil in the guise of a blackbird, afflicting him with strong erotic temptations. To overcome desire, the saint stripped himself naked and rolled in a thicket of briars and nettles. The angel represents the divine enlightenment which helped Benedict resist the sin.
The anatomy of the saint, his loincloth, the blackbird and the leaves of the bushes are rendered with great naturalistic fidelity, as is the modulation of the light which models the volumes. By contrast, elegant Gothic touches define the figure of the angel with its brilliantly coloured wings and blue mantle.
The painting, dating from about 1415-1420, is the work of Nicolò di Pietro, a Venetian artist influenced by Gentile da Fabriano. The panel originally formed part of a polyptych. Three other panels with scenes of the life of Saint Benedict are now in the Uffizi.