Saint Nicholas of Tolentino Saving a Shipwreck

Lateral panel of an altarpiece; companion panels are in the Gemäldegalerie der Akademie der Bildenden Künste, Vienna (inv. no. 1177), and Sant'Agostino, Montepulciano

Giovanni di Paolo (Giovanni di Paolo di Grazia), Italian (active Siena), first documented 1417, died 1482

Made in Italy, Europe


Tempera and gold on panel with vertical grain

20 1/2 x 16 5/8 inches (52.1 x 42.2 cm)

Curatorial Department:
European Painting

* Gallery 211, European Art 1100-1500, second floor

Accession Number:
Inv. 723

Credit Line:
John G. Johnson Collection, 1917

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Additional information:
  • PublicationPhiladelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections

    One of many examples of fifteenth-century Italian painting in the John G. Johnson Collection, this panel was originally part of an altarpiece depicting Saint Nicholas of Tolentino and his miracles that was commissioned for a church in Montepulciano in southern Tuscany. Giovanni di Paolo may have had access to first-hand accounts of the miracles because the government of his hometown of Siena owned a copy of the testimony of witnesses to the events. The shipwreck episode offered fodder for the artist's bizarre imagination, as survivors vividly described the terror of the rolling waves, broken mast, flying sails, and radiant light emanating from the saint who came to save them. However, it was Giovanni di Paolo who added the naked siren swimming in the foreground, enticing sailors to steer off course. The picture's fantastic quality made it an appropriate selection for a group of "forerunners" in the exhibition Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism, held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1936. Carl Brandon Strehlke, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections (1995), p. 164.

* Works in the collection are moved off view for many different reasons. Although gallery locations on the website are updated regularly, there is no guarantee that this object will be on display on the day of your visit.