Saint Mary Magdalen Holding a Crucifix; (reverse) The Flagellation

Artist: Spinello Aretino (Spinello di Luca Spinelli) (Italian, born Arezzo 1345–52, died 1410 Arezzo)

Date: ca. 1395–1400

Medium: Tempera on canvas, gold ground

Dimensions: 69 1/2 x 47 1/4 in. (176.5 x 120 cm)

Classification: Paintings

Credit Line: Gift of the family of Francis M. Bacon, 1914

Accession Number: 13.175

Not on view
Painted on both sides, this extremely rare work was commissioned about 1395–1400 by the Confraternity of Saint Mary Magdalen in Borgo San Sepolcro and would have been carried in religious processions. On one side the hooded members of the confraternity kneel before their patron saint. On the reverse is the Flagellation of Christ—a reminder of the penitential practices members would have performed. Laymen often joined religious confraternities for communal devotions and charitable acts. Their hooded robes rendered such acts anonymous, in conformity with Christ's injunction that good works should not be done for vain praise.

The face of Christ is a photographic facsimile of the original painted face, which was detached in the nineteenth century and is now in the Camposanto Teutonico, Rome.
This is one of two processional banners owned by the Metropolitan Museum made for confraternities—lay organizations affiliated with a church or religious charitable institution. Painted on both sides of a canvas support, these banners were carried through the streets in processions but could also double as altarpieces. This one is by the prominent Tuscan painter Spinello Aretino, who, as his name implies, was from Arezzo but had major commissions in Florence, Pisa, and Siena; the other is by the sixteenth-century north Italian painter Girolamo Romanino (1989.86). In both cases the members of the confraternity for which the banner was painted practiced penitential flagellation, and this explains the subject of the Flagellation that appears on one side of the banner.

On the obverse of Spinello’s banner, Saint Mary Magdalen is shown enthroned, dressed in red, holding a crucifix in one hand and a pyx in the other (Mary Magdalen is traditionally identified as the person who anointed Christ’s feet with oil and perfume, so her emblem is a pyx). She is seated on a marble throne inlaid with mosaics of the type known as cosmatesque. Four music-making angels hover to either side of the saint while four members of the confraternity, dressed in their hooded white robes with cut-out holes for their eyes and an opening on their back for flagellation, kneel at her feet, their hands clasped in prayer. On the shoulder of their robes is the confraternity emblem, a pyx, indicating their devotion to the Magdalen. The angels may be a reference to the legend that when the Magdalen dwelt in a mountain grotto in southern France, each day she levitated and heard angelic music; however, the presence of music-making angels would have been especially meaningful to a confraternity whose members sang hymns, or laudi, as part of their devotions (Dehmer 2004). The instruments they play are (at the left, bottom to top): a psaltery, non-waisted fiddle, and double recorder; (at the right): a portative organ, shawm, and bagpipe (Slim 1980).

The reverse of the banner shows Christ bound to a column beaten by two henchmen. The head of Christ is missing, the paint surface having been removed sometime between 1888 and 1913, by which time the banner had been relined. The detached head of Christ is now in the Campo Santo Teutonico of the Vatican (see fig. 1 above). The history of the banner can be reconstructed on the basis of a note by the Italian art historian Giovanni Battista Cavalcaselle, who saw it sometime prior to 1864 in the collection of marchese Francesco Ranghiasci-Brancaleoni in Gubbio (Gardner 1972). Cavalcaselle made a sketch of the obverse and reverse of the banner (Biblioteca Marciana, Venice; figs. 2–3), and he recorded that it came from a confraternity in Sansepolcro. He also recorded (Crowe and Cavalcaselle 1864) that there was a border of "painted architecture adorned with medallions of saints," of which only vestiges then remained. Such borders are found on other banners—for example, one in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (inv. no. 781-1894). On the basis of the appearance of Mary Magdalen’s pyx on the robes of the confraternity members who kneel at her side, Dabell (1983) identified its original location as the Confraternita di Santa Maria Maddalena, whose oratory in San Sepolcro was instituted in 1334 (Weppelmann 2011). As noted by Franklin (letter of June 16, 1998, in departmental files; see also Weppelmann 2011), the banner (or gonfalone) is cited in a testament of 1416 in which the widow Simona di Angelo di Pirro Dini commissioned a stained glass window for the oratory that was to include an image of Mary Magdalen similar to that on the banner ("figura Sancte Marie Magdalene, prout est in ghonfalone dicte Societatis"; Archivio di Stato, Florence, Notarile Antecosimiano, 19282, Francesco Sisti, 1413-48, f. 22 r). In 1530 the oratory was converted into a church of Francescan Observants. There, in 1619, the banner is again mentioned on an altar (Dehmer 2004, p. 113, n. 113). The edifice—redesigned in the sixteenth century—still exists. The contents would have been removed under the Napoleonic suppression of religious orders. When the banner was acquired by the Museum in 1913, only one side was visible, since the canvas had been relined (coincidentally, the same thing happened to Romanino’s banner in the Museum); however, on the basis of Cavalcaselle’s description, Frank Jewett Mather recognized what it was and surmised the presence of the Flagellation on the reverse side. X-ray examination confirmed this, but only in 1950 was the relining canvas removed, making the Flagellation visible (Gardner 1972). Remarkably, the picture surface of both sides is in very good condition, though—as noted above—the border has been lost through trimming. The banner is generally dated to about 1395, which means that it was painted after Spinello’s frescoes in the Camposanto in Pisa (1390–91) and is about contemporary with the elaborate altarpiece he undertook for the Pisan cathedral (main panel in the Harvard Art Museums). It predates Spinello’s extensive fresco cycle in the Palazzo Pubblico of Siena (1407–8). Spinello maintained a workshop in his native Arezzo and the banner was probably painted there.

Keith Christiansen 2012
Confraternity of Santa Maria Maddalena, Sansepolcro; marchese Francesco Ranghiasci-Brancaleoni, Gubbio (bought for 100 scudi; by 1864–d. 1877); his heirs, Gubbio (1877–at least 1888; sale, Gubbio, April 12–20, 1882, no. 341, as "Bannière peinte de deux côtés," by P. Spinello, bought in); Francis M. Bacon, New York (until 1913; his estate sale, Metropolitan Art Association, Anderson Galleries, New York, October 23–25, 1913, no. 476A, as "Madonna Holding a Crucifix Attended by Angels with Musical Instruments," by an unknown Italian painter, to MMA)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Florentine Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum," June 15–August 15, 1971, no catalogue.

Giovanni Battista Cavalcaselle. Unpublished manuscript. n.d. [Biblioteca Marciana, Venice; see Ref. Gardner 1972], attributes it to Spinello Aretino and notes that it came from a confraternity in Sansepolcro; sketches both sides, showing border roundels (now lost) on the obverse and the head of Christ in place on the reverse; reports that marchese Francesco Ranghiasci-Brancaleoni bought the banner for 100 scudi.

J. A. Crowe and G. B. Cavalcaselle. A History of Painting in Italy from the Second to the Fourteenth Century. Vol. 2, London, 1864, pp. 17–18, as in the collection of the marchese Ranghiacci [sic], Gubbio; state that it was painted for the "Brotherhood of S. Sepolcro at Gubbio," and identify the iconography on both sides, mentioning a painted architectural border with medallions of saints (now lost).

Oderigi Lucarelli. Memorie e guida storica di Gubbio. Città di Castello, 1888, p. 537, no. 212, as still in the Ranghiasci-Brancaleoni collection and not sold in the sale of 1882; attributes it to Parri Spinelli.

J[oseph]. A[rcher]. Crowe and G[iovanni]. B[attista]. Cavalcaselle. A History of Painting in Italy: Umbria, Florence and Siena from the Second to the Sixteenth Century. Ed. Langton Douglas. Vol. 2, Giotto and the Giottesques. repr. 1923. London, 1903, p. 263.

Frank Jewett Mather, Jr. "A Processional Banner by Spinello Aretino." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 9 (February 1914), pp. 43–46, ill. (obverse), reports that the architectural border with medallions has been cut off and the Flagellation (reverse) concealed by a new canvas lining; says the four kneeling figures (obverse) belonged to a flagellant order and identifies the design on their robes as an ointment jar; tentatively dates it 1360s and discusses the influence of Orcagna.

F. Mason Perkins. "Una tavola d'altare di Spinello Aretino." Rassegna d'arte 18 (1918), p. 6, ill. p. 4 (obverse), calls it an altarpiece; dates it between the two Madonnas by Spinello in the Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts, that is, shortly after 1385.

Raimond van Marle. The Development of the Italian Schools of Painting. Vol. 3, The Florentine School of the 14th Century. The Hague, 1924, p. 603, considers it a late work.

Georg Gombosi. Spinello Aretino. Budapest, 1926, pp. 37–39, 117, 135, dates it about 1370–79; comments on its similarity to works from the circle of Orcagna and to a Madonna by Spinello in the Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen.

Alan Burroughs. "The Flagellation by Spinello Aretino Revealed by the X-ray." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 23 (November 1928), pp. 274–78, ill. (overall and x-ray details) [reprinted as "Aretino's 'Mary Magdalen' is X-rayed", Art News 27 (December 1, 1928), p. 25, ill. (overall and x-ray details)], confirms with x-rays the presence of the Flagellation under the relining; believes that it was probably hung in a chapel and implies a date of 1375 .

Bernhard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance. Oxford, 1932, p. 548, lists it as by Spinello and identifies the kneeling figures (obverse) as "Brothers of the Misericordia".

Bernhard Berenson. Pitture italiane del rinascimento. Milan, 1936, p. 471.

[F. Mason] Perkins in Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler. Vol. 31, Leipzig, 1937, p. 386, lists it as by Spinello.

Harry B. Wehle. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Italian, Spanish, and Byzantine Paintings. New York, 1940, pp. 15–16, ill. (obverse).

Mario Salmi. L'arte italiana. Vol. 2, L'arte gotica e l'arte del primo rinascimento. Florence, 1942, p. 133, fig. 200 (obverse).

George Kaftal. Iconography of the Saints in Tuscan Painting. Florence, 1952, p. XXVII n. 5, col. 717.

Millard Meiss. "An Early Altarpiece from the Cathedral of Florence." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 12 (June 1954), p. 302.

Josephine L. Allen and Elizabeth E. Gardner. A Concise Catalogue of the European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1954, pp. 92–93.

Meyer Schapiro. "On an Italian Painting of the Flagellation of Christ in the Frick Collection." Scritti di storia dell'arte in onore di Lionello Venturi. Vol. 1, Rome, 1956, p. 34, says it was painted for a confraternity of "Battuti" in Gubbio.

Federico Zeri. "Reintegrazione di uno stendardo di Spinello nel Metropolitan Museum." Paragone 9 (September 1958), pp. 63–67, figs. 40 (obverse), 41 (reverse), 43 (reconstruction of reverse), identifies a half-lenth figure of Christ on canvas in the Camposanto Teutonico, Vatican City, as the fragment missing from the Flagellation.

Mario Bucci and Licia Bertolini. Camposanto monumentale di Pisa: affreschi e sinopie. Pisa, 1960, p. 85, relate it to Piero di Puccio's (active ca. 1355–1400) fresco of the Coronation of the Virgin in the Camposanto, Pisa.

Walther Kuhn and W. F. Volbach in Frühchristliche Kunst aus Rom. Ed. Leonhard Küppers. Exh. cat., Villa Hügel. Essen, 1962, p. 206, under no. 428, fig. 428 (reconstruction of reverse), accept Zeri's reconstruction and date it about 1390.

Brigitte Klesse. "Literatur zur Trecentomalerei in Florenz." Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte 25, no. 3/4 (1962), p. 271.

Bernard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Florentine School. London, 1963, vol. 1, pp. 205–6, pls. 404 (obverse), 405 (reconstruction of reverse).

C. M. Kauffmann. "Barnaba da Modena and the Flagellants of Genoa." Victoria and Albert Museum Bulletin 2 (January 1966), pp. 12, 19, calls it similar in size and type to a processional banner of about 1369–74 by Barnaba da Modena (Victoria and Albert Museum, London), which also depicts flagellants.

Ferdinando Bologna. I pittori alla corte Angioina di Napoli, 1266–1414. Rome, 1969, pp. 237, 240, 282 n. 10.

Federico Zeri with the assistance of Elizabeth E. Gardner. Italian Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Florentine School. New York, 1971, pp. 43–46, ill. (obverse and reverse), say it was painted for a flagellant brotherhood in Sansepolcro, and date it about 1375; discuss the relining and identification of the missing section of the Flagellation.

Elizabeth E. Gardner. "Dipinti rinascimentali del Metropolitan Museum nelle carte di G. B. Cavalcaselle." Saggi e memorie di storia dell'arte 8 (1972), p. 72, figs. 13 (sketch of obverse), 14 (obverse), 15 (sketch of reverse), 16 (reverse), publishes sketches made by Cavalcaselle [see Ref. n.d.] before 1864 showing border roundels (now lost) on the obverse, and the head of Christ in place on the reverse.

Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972, pp. 192, 285, 429, 533, 606.

Anna Rosa Calderoni Masetti. Spinello Aretino giovane. Florence, 1973, pp. 16–17, dates it after 1385.

Miklòs Boskovits. Pittura fiorentina alla vigilia del Rinascimento, 1370–1400. Florence, 1975, pp. 146–47, 249 n. 249, pp. 439, 441, fig. 516 (reverse), dates it 1395–1400; believes that the original head of Christ from the Flagellation was replaced by another version on a different piece of canvas shortly after the picture was finished, and that this second head, also by Spinello, is the one identified by Zeri [see Ref. 1958] in the Camposanto Teutonico, Vatican City.

Dizionario enciclopedico Bolaffi dei pittori e degli incisori italiani. Vol. 10, Turin, 1975, p. 406.

Mario Salmi. La pittura di Piero della Francesca. Novara, 1979, p. 11, fig. 1 (obverse).

H. Colin Slim. "Mary Magdalene, Musician and Dancer." Early Music 8 (October 1980), pp. 461–62, fig. 3 (obverse), dates it about 1370; compares the angels to those found in Trecento and Quattrocento scenes of the Assumption and Coronation of the Virgin, and identifies their instruments.

Frank Dabell. Unpublished opinion. 1983, notes that the design on the robes of the kneeling figures is a pyx, identifying them as members of the Confraternity of Santa Maria Maddalena in Sansepolcro, founded in 1334 and attached to the Franciscans.

Diane Wolfthal. The Beginnings of Netherlandish Canvas Painting: 1400–1530. Cambridge, 1989, p. 5, fig. 8 (obverse), calls it one of eight extant Trecento paintings on linen, and one of two surviving banners on linen, with the other in the Victoria and Albert Museum [see Ref. Kauffmann 1966].

Stefano Casciu in Nel raggio di Piero: la pittura nell'Italia centrale nell'età di Piero della Francesca. Ed. Luciano Berti. Exh. cat., Casa di Piero, Sansepolcro. Venice, 1992, pp. 36, 45 n. 27, fig. 2 (obverse).

Massimo Ferretti in Antichi maestri pittori: quindici anni di studi e ricerche. Ed. Giovanni Romano. Exh. cat., Antichi maestri pittori. Turin, 1993, p. 62, believes Zeri's dating of about 1375 [see Ref. Zeri and Gardner 1971] must be a misprint for 1395.

Caroline Villers. "Paintings on Canvas in Fourteenth Century Italy." Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte 58, no. 3 (1995), pp. 343–44, 347, figs. 7, 8 (obverse and reverse).

Serena Skerl Del Conte. "La bottega di Agnolo Gaddi e Spinello Aretino nel nono decennio del Trecento." Arte in Friuli, arte a Trieste 15 (1995), pp. 63–64.

Katharine Baetjer. European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art by Artists Born Before 1865: A Summary Catalogue. New York, 1995, p. 11, ill. p. 12 (obverse and reverse).

Frank Dabell in The Dictionary of Art. Ed. Jane Turner. Vol. 29, New York, 1996, pp. 405–6, dates it 1395–97.

Diane Cole Ahl. Benozzo Gozzoli. New Haven, 1996, pp. 145, 303 n. 76, pl. 177 (reverse), dates the "Flagellation" about 1385.

Andrea De Marchi in Oro: maestri gotici e Lucio Fontana. Ed. Andrea De Marchi and Alberto Fiz. Exh. cat., Compagnia di Belle Arti. Milan, 1998, p. 41 n. 14, dates it to the last years of the fourteenth century.

Annette Frenzel. "Die Darstellung der Geisselung Christi in der italienischen Kunst von den Anfängen im 11. Jahrhundert bis ins 17. Jahrhundert: eine ikonographische Studie." PhD diss., Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität, Frankfurt, 1998, pp. 119–21.

Charlotte Hale. "The Technique and Materials of the 'Intercession of Christ and the Virgin' Attributed to Lorenzo Monaco." The Fabric of Images: European Paintings on Textile Supports in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries. Ed. Caroline Villers. London, 2000, pp. 36, 40 n. 30.

Stefan Weppelmann. "Sulla pittura del Trecento aretino tra le botteghe di Andrea di Nerio e Spinello Aretino." Proporzioni, n.s., 1 (2000), pp. 31, 35 n. 25, fig. 15 (reverse).

Isabella Droandi. "Questioni di pittura aretina del Trecento." Annali aretini 8–9 (2000–2001), p. 384.

Linda Pisani. "Pittura tardogotica a Firenze negli anni trenta del Quattrocento: il caso dello Pseudo-Ambrogio di Baldese." Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz 45, no. 1/2 (2001), pp. 8, 33 n. 25.

Andreas Dehmer. "Mobile Passionsdarstellungen als Leitbilder kollektiver Geißelungsrituale im spätmittelalterlichen Italien." Münster 55, no. 3 (2002), pp. 201–2, 206 n. 17.

Nico Staiti. Le metamorfosi di santa Cecilia: l'immagine e la musica. Innsbruck, 2002, p. 45, fig. 18 (obverse), dates it about 1370.

Carl Brandon Strehlke. Italian Paintings 1250–1450 in the John G. Johnson Collection and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Philadelphia, 2004, pp. 142–43 n. 40, follows Zeri and Gardner [see Ref. 1971] in stating that it "seems to have been made around 1375 for a brotherhood in Borgo San Sepolcro".

Andreas Dehmer. Italienische Bruderschaftsbanner des Mittelalters und der Renaissance. PhD diss., Universität Regensburg. Munich, 2004, pp. 112, 180, 202–3 n. 304, pp. 225, 240, 324, no. 62, ill. (obverse and reverse).

Luisa Borri Cristelli. "Riflessioni su Parri Spinelli e sulla pittura aretina nella prima metà del Quattrocento (Parte I)." Arte cristiana 94 (September–October 2006), pp. 326, 335 n. 31.

Stefan Weppelmann in Kult Bild: Das Altar- und Andachtsbild von Duccio bis Perugino/Cult Image—Altarpiece and Devotional Painting from Duccio to Perugino. Exh. cat., Städel Museum, Frankfurt. Petersberg, Germany, 2006, p. 242, fig. 140 (obverse).

Stefan Weppelmann Villa I Tatti: Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies. "A Saint Francis 'in un Trono' at Città di Castello: Considerations on a Presumed Model for Sassetta's Borgo San Sepolcro Altarpiece." Sassetta: The Borgo San Sepolcro Altarpiece. Ed. Machtelt Israëls. Vol. 1, Florence, 2009, p. 235, fig. 189 (obverse, color).

Donal Cooper and Tom Henry. "Letter: A Confraternity Banner from Sansepolcro in the Victoria and Albert Museum." Burlington Magazine 152 (November 2010), p. 744.

Stefan Weppelmann. Spinello Aretino e la pittura del Trecento in Toscana. Florence, 2011, pp. 19, 257–60, 296, 301, no. 55, ill. (obverse and reverse).

Joseph Manca. "Anti-Semitism and Vice in Spinello Aretino's 'Flagellation of Christ'." Notes on Early Modern Art 3, no. 2 (2016), pp. 11–17, figs. 1–3 (color, overall of obverse and reverse, and detail of reverse), sees the figure on the right in the "Flagellation," with his long beard and large, hooked nose, as a stereotype of a Jew, and interprets the projecting bulge in the same figure's drapery below his waist as an erection, stating that this illustrates two ideas current during Spinello's time: the interdependency of the vices and the sexual licentiousness of Jews.