Plague in the city: identifying the subject of Giovanni di Paolo's Vienna Miracle of Saint Nicholas of Tolentino


  • I am grateful to Dr Martina Fleischer for facilitating my research and discussing the Vienna panel with me. Research for this article was assisted by grants from the University of Sydney.


This article aims to resolve scholarly confusion regarding the subject of a panel by Sienese artist Giovanni di Paolo now in Vienna (Akademie der bildenden Kunst). The picture shows a posthumous miracle of the recently canonized Augustinian friar and famous miracle worker Nicholas of Tolentino (d. 1305, canonized 1446), who is shown hovering in the sky above a city. Despite agreement on the reconstruction of the original altarpiece to which this narrative once belonged, art historians remain divided over the identity of the represented miracle. My study re-examines the visual data to refute the most common readings of the panel as a resurrection and argues for acceptance of Bernard Berenson's original identification of the scene as Nicholas saving a town from plague.