Lines and Colors art blog

Eye Candy for Today: Bartolomeo Montagna Renaissance portrait

Saint Justina of Padua, Bartolomeo Montagna (Bartolomeo Cincani)
Saint Justina of Padua, Bartolomeo Montagna (Bartolomeo Cincani)

In the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Use the “download or Enlarge links under the image on their site.

Though this is technically a religious work, not a portrait, I think the beautifully drawn and delicately rendered face has the look of a real person, not an imagined ideal.

I like the wonderful detail in the texture of the iris of the eyes, and the highlight in the eye (which, for reasons beyond me, some artists in later centuries would leave out).

The values in which the face is modeled are subtle but the face feels well defined and geometrically strong.

Montagna’s style shows the influence of Venetian Renaissance master Giovanni Bellini, and it’s speculated that he may have been a student or apprentice of Bellini at some point.


11 responses to “Eye Candy for Today: Bartolomeo Montagna Renaissance portrait”

  1. Hi Charley,

    Your commentary is right on point for Montagna’s portrait of Saint Justina of Padua – one feels a delicate rendering of a real face and not an imagined ideal – details in her eyes, for example.

    I am struggling with one point – her hand seems to incongruous with the rest of the portrait – it rather seems masculine and out of proportion with the rest of the portrait. Thought?

    1. I’ve noticed in a number of late Gothic and early Renaissance portraits of religious figures that the hands might seem distorted to our modern sensibilities; though usually in the other direction — small and quite flat. I’m wondering if there is a symbolic character to this, but I don’t know. There are also distortions in the other direction. A rather extreme example is this painting by Carlo Crivelli.

      When I have time, I hope to dig a little deeper and see if there is any substance to my notion.

      Another thought might simply be that a different, less important individual posed for the hand, perhaps a male assistant to the painter.

  2. Confused artists.
    There are two Saint Justina’s according to Roman Martyrology.

    Their feastdays are:
    September 26 for Cyprian and Justina of Antioch
    October 7 for Justina and Prosdocimus of Padua.

  3. Well, you two stirred my curiosity about the hand. I looked into it a little bit and could not find anything specific to this period of art as relating to symbolism and portraits.

    I found some sources of hand symbolic meanings in art from various sources including from medical points of view, religious (non-art) points of view, artists and laymen.
    These referred more to religious icons, Greco-Roman Orator gestures in Christian art. I don’t know, maybe there is something there.
    Not necessarily the scholarly sources I was hoping to find. In fact the medical sources began discussing hands from the this period art as deformities but concluded they were stylistic features and/or represented elegance, grace or high status. But then again a medical source, not art scholar source.

    I hesitate to include many of the links I found because of their non-art historian views but here are a couple since I brought them up.
    Only one from the Met, a narrated slide show, where this posts painting is but only a general one of hands with examples of hands in art. I think she could have done much more with it.

    Start digging Charley. You do several posts on just hands in art.

    1. Thanks, David, both for the resources and for the excellent idea for a post or posts on hands in art!

  4. Thanks David and Charley, I also found an ancient source of hand gestures in art, named/called Mudrâs in the Buddhistic tradition, dating back to centuries before the Common Era.

  5. I found another painting by Bartolomeo Montagn in the archive of – a online search portal for auctioned lots.
    Also in this painting the hand is very elaborate:

  6. Regarding the religious branch in her hand; on 10 April 1688 it was decided by the Congregation of Rites that the palm when found depicted on catacomb tombs was to be regarded as a proof that a martyr had been interred there. Subsequently this opinion was acknowledged by Mabillon, Muratori, Benedict XIV and others to be untenable; further investigation showed that the palm was represented not only on tombs of the post-persecution era, but even on pagan tombs.

  7. The notion that this looks like a portrait is reinforced by the Met’s notes on this which point out that by the 1490s when this was painted, it had become fashionable to be portrayed in the guise of your patron saint. This is presumed to come from an altarpiece and so we may be looking at a portrait of a donor in the guise of St. Justina.

    1. Thanks, Daniel. That makes sense. At other times, patrons had themselves painted into devotional works as though they were observers on the scene of Biblical events.

  8. Charley, do you mean, as Pinterest claims this saint is Isabella d’Este? Defined as Daughter of Humanism, the Lady of the Renaissance, and the Prima Dona of the World. Born on Tuesday ,May 17, 1474, 1,5 hours after sunset.