Predella of St. Vitus

Late 15th / Early 16th century
Church of St. Vitus ("Sankt Veit"), Flein, Germany

This is the predella of an altarpiece donated by the mayor of Heilbronn, Conrad Erer, and his wife. In the scene on the left these two are pictured offering two chickens. To my knowledge no infants figure in the hagiographic literature, so the baby in the cradle is most likely the object of the donors' prayers, which are seconded by the prayers of St. Vitus, who sits on the right.

In the scene on the right half, St. Vitus prays from a pot of boiling lead and pitch, one of the torments ordered by the Emperor Diocletian. Praying with him are his nurse St. Crescentia and his tutor St. Modestus. In the legends all three suffer the torture of the boiling lead, during which they sing canticles like the three Hebrew youths in the fiery furnace.

St. Vitus's vita emphasizes repeatedly that it is God who heals, and that all Vitus does is pray. Responding to this emphasis, the artist shows each of the persons in the predella at prayer: the donors with their offerings, the saint with his prayer beads, and on the right the beads of St. Modestus and the "praying hands" of Vitus and Crescentia.

The range of dates for the altarpiece can be established by the age of Conrad Erer. According to Wikipedia he became mayor of Heilbronn in 1494 at the age of 41. As a bald man with an infant child, he was probably of approximately that age when he and his wife commissioned the altarpiece.

Read more about images of St. Vitus.

Source of photograph and identification: this page at Wikimedia Commons.