Giulio Quaglia, Four Episodes from the Life of St. Nicholas

Late 17th century
Chancel, St. Nicholas Cathedral, Ljubljana, Slovenia

The images are on the left and right sides of the chancel and picture four sequential episodes from the Golden Legend, which they follow quite faithfully.

In the first picture at right, St. Nicholas is the bearded man in gray in the upper half. Having heard that "three innocent soldiers" were to be unjustly executed, he ran and "found the condemned men already on their knees, their faces veiled, and the executioner brandishing his sword over their heads" (Ryan, I, 23). He then grabbed the sword and stopped the execution.

In the second picture on the right is the saint's oft-pictured intervention on behalf of the storm-tossed sailors. While the saint is attending the Council of Nicea a violent storm damages a sailing ship. The sailors pray that Nicholas will save them. They then see "a figure resembling the saint" who says, "You called me, here I am" (ibid., 22) Like many other images of this episode, the painting poses the figure horizontally, luminous against the storm-darkened sky while the sailors gesture to him in prayer from their damaged craft. (The images never picture the Legend's statement that Nicholas "began to assist them with the sails and ropes and other rigging of the ship.")

In the third picture Nicholas frustrates a plan devised by the devil, who in the guise of a nun had asked some people heading to Myra to take along a certain oil and rub it on the walls of Nicholas's church as an offering. Unbeknownst to them, it was "an unnatural oil that had the property of burning on water or on stone." But a person with "a striking likeness to Saint Nicholas" joined them and advised them to pour the oil on the water when they were at sea. Thereupon "a huge fire flared up on the sea and…burned for hours" (ibid, 23). The painting shows a man pouring the oil from the bow of the ship as the flames rage in the upper register. The figure on the right is the mysterious person with "the striking likeness."

In the fourth picture St. Nicholas relieves a famine at Myra by persuading a merchant to donate from a shipment of grain he was transporting to the emperor's granaries. He promises "in God's power" that when the merchant arrives at the granaries his ship will have a full load again (ibid., 22-23). In the painting, the upper register has the ship on the left and Nicholas's prayer for "God's power" on the right; below, the grain has been made into bread, which men distribute to the citizenry.

View full-resolution images of the first, second, third, and fourth paintings.
Read more about St. Nicholas

Photographed at the cathedral by Richard Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.