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    A fifteenth-century Florentine altarpiece painted by the Pollaiuolo brothers, Antonio (1433-1498) and Piero (1443-1496), shows three saints with evident deformities of the hands and feet. The pathologies concerned are tentatively identified, and various rationales for their presence in the painting are discussed. Of particular importance is the location of the altarpiece in a chapel which houses the tomb of the Cardinal of Portugal, Prince James of Lusitania (1433-1459). It is argued that both the artistic style of the day and the religious symbolism of the Cardinal's funeral chapel contributed to the artists' decision to portray the saints with deformities. An unnatural curvature of the fifth finger was apparently considered elegant in fifteenth-century paintings, and the depiction of bare feet with hallux valgus gave them a shape which approximated and could have been caused by fashionable pointed shoes. But in addition, deformities in religious art could be symbolic of suffering and martyrdom, a theme which the Cardinal's chapel emphasised in a number of ways. It is suggested therefore that the Pollaiuolo altarpiece reconciles these two disparate factors, portraying genuine deformities in a way that was artistically stylish and symbolically meaningful.


    W R Albury, G M Weisz. Three saints with deformed extremities in an Italian Renaissance altarpiece. Rheumatology international. 2017 Mar;37(3):465-468

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    PMID: 27834010

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