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The story of Saint Peter Martyr, a Dominican friar and inquisitor, is told in the 'Golden Legend'. In 1252, he was ambushed on the road to Milan by assassins hired by local Cathar heretics. He was wounded in the head and stabbed repeatedly. His last action, shown here, affirms his faith - he is writing 'credo' ('I believe'), in his own blood. Peter Martyr was recognised as a saint by the Pope. He became an important figure for Dominicans, ranking alongside the founder of the order, Saint Dominic.

X-rays show that the stance of Peter Martyr's murderer was changed from upright to stooping. Drawings made by Bellini for the new figure groups must have been reused as the basis of a workshop version at the Courtauld Institute, London. The four central figures of this work repeat exactly the outlines of those in the National Gallery picture. The Courtauld version once had the date 1509 on its reverse. The National Gallery picture, perhaps painted with assistance, probably dates earlier, to about 1507.

The woodsmen in the background chopping trees (which bleed in the Courtauld version) are intended to remind us of the way in which the saint was killed.

Details

  • Title: The Assassination of Saint Peter Martyr
  • Creator: Giovanni Bellini
  • Date Created: about 1505-7
  • Physical Dimensions: 99.7 x 165.1 cm
  • Type: Painting
  • Medium: Oil on panel
  • School: Italian (Venetian)
  • More Info: Explore the National Gallery’s paintings online
  • Inventory number: NG812
  • Artist Dates: active about 1459; died 1516
  • Artist Biography: Giovanni Bellini was born into the leading dynasty of Venetian painters. He seems to have been the younger brother of Gentile Bellini. His development was first shaped by his father, Jacopo. His brother-in-law Andrea Mantegna also influenced early works, such as 'The Blood of the Redeemer' and 'The Agony in the Garden'. The visit of Antonello da Messina to Venice in 1475-6 may also have influenced him. Many signed paintings survive, as well as a number of workshop productions, including works on this screen. 'The Assassination of Saint Peter Martyr' is now thought to be by him rather than by his workshop. In his old age Bellini executed a few secular narrative paintings, of which the greatest is 'The Feast of the Gods', later modified by Titian.
  • Acquisition Credit: Presented by Lady Eastlake, 1870

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