Piero della Francesca is an artist of outstanding importance in the Italian Renaissance, thanks to his essential and balanced style that had a significant influence on late15th century artists.
This panel was part of a polyptych for to the high altar of the church of Sant’Agostino in Sansepolcro. The polyptych, painted between 1454 and 1469, and now dismembered was one of Piero's major projects. The other panels are now in European and North American museums: : Saint Augustine at Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga in Lisbon; St. Michael the Archangel at the National Gallery of London; Saint John the Evangelist and a Crucifixion at Frick Collection in New York.
The Poldi Pezzoli's panel represents Nicholas of Tolentino, an Augustinian monk who lived in the 13th century and became a saint in 1446. In Piero's depiction, Saint Nicholas wears the black gown and leather belt typical of the Augustine order; the star on the right is also an attribute of this saint, as it alludes to the supposed appearance of a star on the day of Nicholas' birth. The face and figure of the saint are depicted in a style very close to portraiture. Indeed, it is likely that Piero took as his model the prior of the monastery of Sansepolcro, mentioned in the contract for the commission of the altarpiece. In the early the 19th century the main panels of this polyptych were in Milan, as shown by the stamps allowing their exportation.