The work, originally part of the large polyptych executed in 1426 for the chapel of San Giuliano in the Carmelite church in Pisa to a commission from Ser Giuliano di Colino, was described in situ by Giorgio Vasari in both the 1551 and the 1568 edition of his Lives. Later it was dismembered, and the other panels are now dispersed between London Madonna with Child and Angels(Madonna and Child), National Gallery), Naples (Crucifixion, Gallerie Nazionali di Capodimonte), Berlin (parts of the predella and small figures of saints, Gemaldegalerie) and Malibu (Saint Andrew, Paul Getty Museum). The Saint Paul in Pisa was in the upper row of the polyptych, probably immediately to the left of the Crucifixion. To unify the painting work Masaccio uses a strong source of light located on the left that casts deep shadows, setting the figures in a three-dimensional space. The attitude of Saint Paul,with his highly sculptural drapery, recalls contemporary works by Donatello, especially the statues of Jeremiah and Habakkuk: in particular the idea of the figure's rotary motion, with the head turned to the right, in contraposition to the bust, is derived from the great Florentine sculptor, as is the gesture of the hand holding the sword. Taking on board the most advanced of Donatello's experiments, Masaccio, at the age of just twenty-five, displayed a realism and a sense of drama that were without precedent in painting, marking a decisive turning point in the figurative culture of the Italian Renaissance.
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