The Saint Vincent Panels are a polyptych attributed to the royal painter of King Afonso V (1432-1481), Nuno Gonçalves. Rediscovered in 1882 in the Monastery of São Vicente de Fora, they are generally known by the names proposed in 1909 by José de Figueiredo — the panels of the Friars, the Fishermen, thePrince, the Archbishop, the Knights and the Relic —, and form an exceptional collection, both within the framework of Portuguese art throughout history and in the context of great European painting of the 15th century. The horizontal arrangement of the panels, linked from the perspective of the tiles defining the floor and unified by the row of heads along the top of the composition, corresponds to the sequence of their initial placing, which would originally have formed part of the retable of the Saint Vincent Altarpiece in the chancel of Lisbon Cathedral (c.1470).
The Panels show a group of 58 individual characters gathered around the double figure of Saint Vincent, a solemn and monumental assembly representing the Court and the various sections of Portuguese society at the time, with emphasis on the Knights and the various hierarchies of the Church, in an act of veneration to the patron of and inspiration for the 15th century military expansion into the Maghreb. Although the absence of any witnesses contemporary to its creation makes it difficult to achieve a full understanding of the intention and significance of the work, it must serve a dual function, votive and evocative, in relation to the combative triumphs of the Avis dynasty in the north of Africa.
A unique “group portrait” in the history of European painting, it is a work of enormous symbolic importance to Portuguese culture, giving rise to the interpretative challenges that have inspired, particularly in the area of iconographic identification, varying degrees of imaginative activity that have fuelled a debate that is now centuries old and still inconclusive.
The triptych of the Temptation of Saint Anthony is a masterpiece by the painter Hieronymus Bosch, the fifth centenary of whose death is celebrated this year, 2016. It was painted around 1500, its precise destination unknown. In the 19th century, it belonged to King Luis I’s collection. On the back of the wings, two panels in grisaille, visible when the triptych is closed, show the Arrest of Christ and the Road to Calvary. Inside, in a unified and strange landscape populated by monsters and hybrid beings, Saint Anthony, one of the founders of Christian monasticism, suffers the temptations and torments of diabolic figures that trouble his life and the peace sought through prayer and withdrawal from the world.