On 4 October 1454 Piero della Francesca received his first contract for the commission of an altarpiece for the Augustinian friars of Borgo Sansepolcro to be placed in their church of Sant’Agostino.
The Sant’Agostino polyptych took Piero fifteen years to complete and remained intact until 1680, when the four saints of Augustine, Michael, John and Nicholas were removed to a private collection.
Saint augustine was the founder of the Augustine order. Piero depicted him suitably dressed in a sumptuous, ornately embroidered cloak and jewel-encrusted mitre, identifying him as a bishop.
Michael the archangel was the subject of powerful devotion in Borgo at this time, and the local townspeople underwent a popular pilgrimage to his sanctuary on Monte Sant’Angelo in Apulia.
Saint John the Evangelist is shown as an austere hermit, with his attention absorbed in his Bible, emphasising his role as a scholar.
The polyptych was later dismantled completely and the remaining wings and smaller figures of saints and the predella were sold separately. The extant paintings are now dispersed in galleries worldwide, while the central panel, believed to depict the Madonna and Child, remains missing.
Lavin, Marilyn Aronberg. Piero della Francesca. London; New York: Phaidon Press, 2002.
Silver, Nathaniel ed. Piero della Francesca in America: From Sansepolcro to the East Coast. New York: The Frick Collection, 2013.
An interactive reconstruction of the Sant’Agostine altarpiece can be viewed here: https://www.frick.org/exhibitions/piero/interactive
Saint Augustine, 1454-69, oil and tempera on poplar panel, 135.5 x 66.5 cm (Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon)
Saint Michael the Archangel, 1454-69, oil and tempera on poplar panel,133 x 59.5 cm (National Gallery, London)
Saint John the Evangelist, 1454-69, oil and tempera with traces of gold on poplar panel, 134 x 62.2 cm (The Frick Collection, New York)
Saint Apollonia, 1454-69, oil and tempera with gold on poplar panel, 38.7 x 28.3 cm (National Gallery of Art, Washington DC)
Saint Leonard, 1454-69, oil and tempera with gold on poplar panel, 40 x 28.2 cm (The Frick Collection, New York)
Saint Monica, 1454-69, oil and tempera with gold on poplar panel, 38.7 x 27.9 cm (The Frick Collection, New York)
The Crucifixion, 1454-69, oil and tempera with gold on poplar panel, 37.2 x 40.3 cm (The Frick Collection, New York)