The polyptych of Ugljan is considered the finest and most representative example of late Gothic painting in Dalmatia. It attests to a continual exchange of artistic ideas between the eastern Adriatic coast and the artistic centres of the period. Originally produced for the Franciscan Monastery (Saint Jerome’s Monastery) on the Isle of Ugljan, the polyptych is currently kept in the Convent of Saint Francis in Zadar. The work was produced by Ivan Petrov iz Milana, whose presence in Zadar is documented in the town’s archives from 1431. This exceptionally talented painter, who developed his artistic skills in an artistic milieu in Milan where there was a mixture of Italian and trans-Alpine influences, introduced the Gothic style in Dalmatia during the first half of the fifteenth century.
The polyptych of Ugljan comprises twenty-nine painted panels in a richly decorated carved wooden and gilded frame. This ensemble of paintings is assembled into a composition of three horizontal sections.
The main painting, which is also the largest, is located in the centre of the composition. It depicts a Virgin and Child surrounded by angels. The Virgin, who has youthful features, long and particularly elegant hands, and is wearing a red dress ornamented with gold embroidered flowers and a blue cloak with Maphorion (holy veil) decorated with gold geometric ornaments, is sitting on a throne decorated with architectural elements. The great attention to detail in the depiction of the Child playing with a goldfinch attests to the painter’s extensive knowledge of human anatomy. Eight angels all rendered differently by the painter and playing various musical instruments, surround the Virgin and Child.
Either side of the central panel, there are six saints in the middle section. They are standing on yellowish hexagonal plinths inscribed with their names. The background, like that of the Virgin and Child, is divided into an upper gold section and a lower black section.
All the figures have halos punched in the same way. Saint Peter Martyr (first on the left), who is dressed in black, is holding a book in his right hand and a palm branch in his left hand, and there’s a knife stuck in his bloodied head. He is followed by saint Nicholas bestowing a blessing in bishop’s clothing and saint Francis with a gold crucifix showing his stigmata. Saint Jerome (on the right of the composition, next to the Virgin and Child), dressed as a cardinal, is holding a quill in his right hand and a very beautiful model of a church in his left hand. He is followed by saint Simeon, the most extravagantly dressed saint. He is holding a rotulet with a Latin inscription in his left hand, and is wearing a blue gown entirely covered with gold vegetal ornaments and a red cloak decorated with gold embroidered edging. Saint Jacques (last on the right) is holding a half-open book in his right hand and a long staff in his left hand.
Six other saints, whose busts are only represented, ornament the polyptych’s two lateral panels. They are Saint Chrysogonus, saint Etienne (or saint Lawrence?), saint John the Baptist, saint Demetrius, an elderly saint dressed as a bishop (probably saint Donatus), and a young unidentified saint.
The Imago pietatis composition in three paintings occupies the upper part of the polyptych. In the centre, the presentation of the emaciated corpse of Christ leaving the hexagonal sarcophagus is flanked by paintings depicting saint Mary and saint John, whose heads are lowered in distress.
The predella, occupying the lower part of the polyptych, is divided into thirteen panels depicting the busts of Christ bestowing a blessing (in the middle) and twelve apostles with books or rotulets in their hands.
The richly engraved gilded frame is unique in Dalmatian art but equivalents can be found in Venice. It would be interesting to compare them.
Hilje E., Utemeljenje franjevačkih samostana na zadarskim otocima, Radovi Zavoda za povijesne znanosti HAZU u Zadru, vol. 45, Zadar, 2003, pp. 7–19
Hilje E., Gotičko slikarstvo u Zadru, Matica hrvatska, Zagreb, 1999, pp. 92-121
Petricioli I., O važnijim umjetninama u franjevačkom samostanu u Zadru, in: Samostan Sv. Frane u Zadru, Zadar, 1980, pp. 117-118