Martín de Soria
(active c. 1450–1487)
Tempera on panel with parchment ground
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Herbert James Pratt Fund, 42.42
Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
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For nearly forty years, Martín de Soria produced altarpieces for churches in his home city of Zaragoza and its environs. This altarpiece, or retablo, is notable for its unusually complete preservation: the only significant element missing is its original frame including the canted frame, or guardapolvos (“dust-guard”). The central votive panel pairs a splendidly armored archangel Michael, coolly victorious over a demon, with the more modest, dark-robed saint Anthony Abbot, identifiable by his attributes of a bell, a pig, and flames beneath his feet. The Crucifixion scene appears above, while narrative scenes flanking the central panel depict miracles and events from each saint’s life, or hagiography: a procession to Saint Michael’s shrine at Monte Gargano and the archangel intervening in an execution; Saint Anthony tempted by Satan in the form of a beautiful woman and tormented by demons with clubs and pincers. Below, the bottom row of the altarpiece, called the predella or banco, depicts Christ as the Man of Sorrows flanked by the Evangelists John and Matthew and Saints Ursula and Quitería. This section of the altarpiece is the only part that retains its original gilded frame.
This retablo’s relatively modest scale suggests that it was commissioned for a subsidiary chapel rather than to be installed behind the main altar as was the larger and more elaborate Retablo of Saint Peter, also by Martín de Soria. The pairing of Saints Michael and Anthony may derive from the medieval association of both saints with protection from plague.