The Polyptych by Giovanni Boccati

HOME / The Polyptych by Giovanni Boccati
The Polyptych by Giovanni Boccati in the Church of Saint Eustace in Belforte del Chienti

As the inscriptions read, the polyptych was made by Giovanni Boccati da Camerino Belforte del Chientiin 1468 for the high altar of the Belforte church and commissioned by Taliano di Lippo, in accordance with the prior and the notables of the time. The whole complex celebrates the figure of Saint Eustace, who was the patron of the town and after whom the church had been named. His story is drawn from the Golden Legend, a collection of hagiographies written by Jacopo da Varazze in the eighteenth century, and can be read, counterclockwise, in the four panels of the predella. While hunting, Eustace, a commander of Emperor Trajan’s army, sees a bright shining cross with the image of Christ between the antlers of a deer. Persuaded to convert to Christianity along with his family, Eustace learns that he is to suffer and bear many humiliations before reaching glory. It so happens that he is deprived of all his material goods, and a wolf and a lion kidnap his wife and two children from the banks of a river. After suffering fifteen difficult years, Eustace is asked by Trajan to lead the army against the barbarians. On that occasion, he miraculously meets his family again. The four, upon arriving in Rome, do not want to venerate the pagan idols and are thrown to a lion that, however, out of devotion, refuses to devour them. They are then put into an incandescent bronze ox and die after three days. The Christians bury their corpses and build an oratory in their memory. The four little panels of Saint Eustace, within pairs of protruding blocks, alternate with figures of saints. In the central part, two pairs of angels surround a superb wooden rosette containing the relic of the saint. The ethereal figure of Mary adoring the Christ Child dominates the majestic altarpiece. Beneath a damask curtain, the spiritual mysticism of the moment is represented: a choir of musician angels symbolically highlights the future sufferings for redeeming mankind. This is represented by an angel offering a goldfinch, by the little coral crown, and by the thistle pictured on the Virgin’s mantle. In the upper side, the Crucifixion is represented through Mary and John suffering and the angels collecting the Eucharistic blood. In a circle inscribed in the central cusp, the figure of God among the angels of heaven dominates them all. To the right of the Virgin, appear Saint Peter and Saint Eustace on horseback on a meadow of dandelion, chicory, clover, and poppy and, to her left, Saint James the Greater and Saint Venantius. In the upper level, Christ is flanked by Saint Nicholas of Bari and by the Beato Guardato, co-patron of the town (at the right) and by Saint Sebastian and Saint Eleuterus (at the left). At the opposite sides, we can identify the Nuncio and the Annunciata, while, between Saint Eustace and Saint Venantius the figures of Saints Mary Magdalene, Barbara, and Agatha are depicted, opposite to Saint Lucy, Saint Catherine of Alessandria, and Saint Anthony Abbot. The polyptych of Belforte is one of the most mature works created by Giovanni Boccati who
Belforte del Chientiwanted to merge the memories of late gothic precepts with Renaissance influences. Probably, the artist received his first educationlocally and then started to travel through Central North Italy studying themes and styles thoroughly. Thanks to the works Domenico Veneziano in Perugia, and those of Beato Angelico in Florence, he improves the use of colour impregnated with light. In the Basilica del Santo in Padua, he catches the materiality of bodies and the marks that time leaves on them. This is how Boccati develops his art, giving to the Saint Eustace church a fascinating masterpiece in gothic carpentry. Aware that the territory offers several examples of that so-called shady Renaissance, you must visit Belforte to taste the symbolic art and the sumptuousness of the spiritual world of the time in a composition made up of deeply interlinked and inseparable elements.