The subject of this painting is the death of Saint Peter Martyr, who was murdered near Milan in 1252. Because of his zeal in defending the faith against heresy, Peter was appointed Inquisitor for Lombardy and as such made many enemies. According to the Golden Legend, a hired assassin attacked him on his way from Como to Milan and bludgeoned him on the head, stabbed him, and left him for dead. On returning, the assassin saw that he was still alive and pierced his heart with a knife. Another legend relates that Saint Peter struggled to his knees and wrote with his blood the first words of the Creed: Credo in unum deum (I believe in one God). The three crowns of martyrdom that emanate from the glory or aureola at the upper left are red (for virginity), black (for doctoral preaching), and gold (for martyrdom).
The art connoisseur Bernard Berenson first attributed this painting to Jacobello del Fiore in 1946 on the basis of a photograph, although the painting was at that time attributed to Gentile da Fabriano. Jacobello had early come under the influence of the Byzantine-inspired fourteenth-century Venetian style. He later became acquainted with Gentile, who had come to Venice in 1414–1415, and Jacobello adopted his more courtly International Gothic style. The jewel-like colors, gilding, and tapestrylike landscape details are typical of this style.
When Berenson first saw the painting about 1893 in the Sterbini Collection in Rome, he wrote that it then had above it a lunette painting, a Madonna of Humility. Later, he saw the Dumbarton Oaks painting at a dealer’s, but without the Madonna. The Madonna of Humility later was at Wildenstein & Co., New York, N.Y., ca. 1966–70, and is now on loan at the Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart (Inv. L1232) from a private collection.
Suida, Wilhelm. "Two Unpublished Paintings by Gentile da Fabriano." Art Quarterly 3, no. 4 (Autumn 1940), 349, fig. 2.
Berenson, Bernard. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance, Venetian School I. London: Phaidon Publishers Inc., 1957, 93f, pl. 37.
Grassi, Luigi. Tutta la Pittura di Gentile da Fabriano. Milan: 1953, pl. 101.
Fredericksen, Burton B., and Frederico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1972, 100, 644.
Christiansen, Keith. Gentile da Fabriano. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1982, 70 (note 15), 132 cat. XLV, pl. 104.
Hall, Edwin, and Horst Uhr. "Aureola super Auream: Crowns and Related Symbols of Special Distinction for Saints in Late Gothic and Renaissance Iconography." The Art Bulletin 67, no. 4 (December 1985), 586-587, fig. 17.
Meilman, Patricia. Titian and the Altarpiece in Renaissance Venice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000, 41, 43, 80, fig. 18.
Bühl, Gudrun, editor. Dumbarton Oaks, The Collections. Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection (distributed by Harvard University Press), 2008, 304f, ill.
Zaru, Denise. Art and Observance in Renaissance Venice: The Dominicans and their Artists (1391 - ca. 1545). Rome: Viella, 2014, 32, 253, 276, fig. 14.
"A Century of Progress, Exhibition of Paintings and Sculpture, 1934," Art Institute of Chicago, 6/1-11/1/1934, cat. no. 8 as Burgundian, 15th century.
"Komstens Venedig," Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, 10/20/1962-2/10/1963, cat. no. 43.
Collection of Giulio Sterbini, Rome.
Georges Brauer Collection, Florence.
F. Steinmayer (dealer), Lucerne.
Purchased from Dikran G. Kelekian, New York, NY (dealer), by Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, 9/15/1922.
Collection of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, Washington, DC, 9/15/1922-11/29/1940.
Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, House Collection, Washington, DC.