Head of Christ

Master of the Orcagnesque Misericordia (Italian, Florence, active second half 14th century)

Tempera on wood, gold ground
Overall, with engaged frame, 11 5/8 x 8 1/8 in. (29.5 x 20.6 cm); painted surface 9 5/8 x 6 1/8 in. (24.4 x 15.6 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of The Jack and Belle Linsky Foundation, 1981
Accession Number:
  • Gallery Label

    This hypnotic panel, painted front and back and with its original frame, shows two angels holding the cloth on which Christ's head was miraculously imprinted (Veronica's veil). The inscription on Christ's collar suggests that it may have been used during the Mass as a pax to pass the kiss of peace. This Master was a gifted follower of Orcagna, the greatest Florentine painter of the mid-fourteenth century.

  • Catalogue Entry


  • Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings

    Inscription: Inscribed (on Christ's collar): :PACEM:MEAM:dOVOBIS (My peace I give unto you [John 14:27].)

  • Provenance

    [Elia Volpi, Florence, about 1912]; Baron Wladimir de Grüneisen, Florence; Dr. Ernst Schwarz, New York (until d. 1957; ?his heirs until 1959; sale, Christie's, London, June 26, 1959, no. 47, "The Property of a Gentleman formerly in the Collection of the late Dr. Ernst Schwarz," as by B. Daddi, for 2,800 gns. to "Leadbeater" [Linsky]); Mr. and Mrs. Jack Linsky, New York (1959–his d. 1980); The Jack and Belle Linsky Foundation, New York (1980–81)

  • Exhibition History

    Hartford. Wadsworth Atheneum. "An Exhibition of Italian Panels & Manuscripts from the Thirteenth & Fourteenth Centuries in Honor of Richard Offner," April 9–June 6, 1965, no. 16 (as "Holy Face," tentatively attributed to the Pistoiese school, lent by Mr. and Mrs. Jack Linsky).

    New York. The Cloisters, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Medieval Art from Private Collections," October 30, 1968–March 30, 1969, no. 13 (as "Holy Face," by a Tuscan painter, lent by Mr. and Mrs. Jack Linsky).

  • References

    Millard Meiss. Painting in Florence and Siena after the Black Death. Princeton, 1951, pp. 35–38, fig. 42, as whereabouts unknown; attributes it to a follower of the Cioni, possibly Pistoiese, and dates it 1380; notes that it may have been intended as a likeness of one of the "sacra facies" images venerated in Rome; adds that the textile held by the two angels can be interpreted as either a cloth of honor behind Christ's head or as Saint Veronica's veil imprinted with the likeness of Christ, making it a very early example of a Veronica; observes that the size and inscription suggest its possible use as a pax [see Notes].

    Samuel J. Wagstaff Jr. An Exhibition of Italian Panels & Manuscripts from the Thirteenth & Fourteenth Centuries in Honor of Richard Offner. Exh. cat., Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art. Hartford, 1965, p. 19, no. 16, cites Ref. Meiss 1951.

    Miklós Boskovits. "Some Early Works of Agnolo Gaddi." Burlington Magazine 110 (April 1968), pp. 211–12, fig. 67, tentatively attributes it to Agnolo Gaddi, dating it about 1370; notes that there was probably a Byzantine prototype.

    Carmen Gómez-Moreno. Medieval Art from Private Collections. Exh. cat., The Cloisters, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1968, unpaginated, no. 13, ill., supports the suggestion that it was used as a pax, remarking that the brocade held by the angels and the tooled halo recall the more common silver or siler-gilt paxes, and that the decoration on the back indicates that both sides were meant to be seen.

    Miklòs Boskovits. Pittura fiorentina alla vigilia del Rinascimento, 1370–1400. Florence, 1975, p. 370, attributes it to the Master of the [Orcagnesque] Misericordia and dates it 1370–75.

    Bruce Cole. Agnolo Gaddi. Oxford, 1977, p. 1 n.2, rejects Boskovits' [see Ref. 1975] attribution to Agnolo Gaddi and calls it late Trecento, perhaps from Pistoia.

    Richard Offner. "A Legacy of Attributions." A Critical and Historical Corpus of Florentine Painting. supplement, New York, 1981, p. 12, lists it as by the Master of the Virgin of Mercy (Misericordia Master), whom he calls a student of Andrea di Cione.

    Keith Christiansen in The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Notable Acquisitions, 1981–1982. New York, [1982], p. 37, ill., as attributed to Niccolò di Tommaso; dates it about 1372 and finds the execution more refined than most of Niccolò's known panel paintings.

    Keith Christiansen. "Fourteenth-Century Italian Altarpieces." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 40 (Summer 1982), pp. 10, 13, fig. 14 (color), as attributed to Niccolò di Tomasso [sic]; dates it about 1370 and states that the frame is original but regilt; identifies it as a pax.

    Federico Zeri. Letter to Keith Christiansen. January 20, 1982, attributes it to the Master of the Orcagnesque Misericordia, whom he believes is Giovanni Gaddi; agrees with Boskovits' [see Ref. 1975] dating of about 1370–75.

    Miklós Boskovits. "La fase tarda del Beato Angelico: una proposta di interpretazione." Arte cristiana 71 (January–February 1983), p. 24 n. 9, attributes it to the Master of the [Orcagnesque] Misericordia.

    Claudia Däubler-Hauschke. Geburt und Memoria: zum italienischen Bildtyp der "deschi da parto". Munich, 2003, p. 52 n. 17, mentions it with examples of two-sided, painted "Kußtafeln".

  • Notes

    This painting was made as an independent object, as suggested by the lack of hinge marks on the original frame. It may have served as a pax (or Osculatorium), a tablet used in passing the kiss of peace during the mass [see Ref. Meiss 1951]. Such objects were usually made of metal, but painted ones are known. The size of the work, its hieratic quality, and the inscription are especially appropriate for this liturgical function, and the decoration on the back indicates that both sides were meant to be seen. While the image may be interpreted as showing Christ before a cloth of honor, it more likely represents Saint Veronica's veil (sudarium), miraculously imprinted with the head of the Christ during the journey to Calvary.

    The back is decorated with a white bordered, purple quatrefoil design on a green background. Inside the quatrefoil is a geometric configuration consisting of squares and triangles of white, purple, and black.

    The Master of the Orcagnesque Misericordia is the name given by Richard Offner [see Ref. 1981] to the painter of a Madonna of Mercy in the Galleria dell'Accademia, Florence.

  • See also