Crucifix, Master of the Orcagnesque Misericordia (Italian, Florence, active second half 14th century), Tempera on wood, gold ground


Master of the Orcagnesque Misericordia (Italian, Florence, active second half 14th century)
Tempera on wood, gold ground
18 x 13 1/4 in. (45.7 x 33.7 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Samuel H. Kress, 1927
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 626
This crucifix could have been displayed on an altar or carried in processions. Christ is shown alive on one side and dead on the other while the terminals on one side are decorated with the four Evangelists and on the other with Mary, John the Evangelist (both present at the Crucifixion), and Saints Francis and Anthony of Padua. The artist was a gifted follower of Orcagna, the greatest Florentine painter of the middle years of the fourteenth century.

This crucifix was made to be carried in processions and is painted on both sides. Before entering the Kress collection (Shapley 1966) the two sides were separated, but they were re-united in the Museum in 1988. Following tradition, Christ is shown as alive on one side, with eyes open, and dead on the other, with eyes closed. The terminals on the obverse depict (clockwise from left) the Madonna, Saints Francis of Assisi, John the Evangelist, and Anthony of Padua, as first suggested by Offner (1956 and 1981). Anthony was among the early followers of Saint Francis and was known for his learning. Although the figure in question holds only a book for his attribute, he is less likely to be Bonaventure, as suggested by Wehle (1940), since he was a cardinal. The terminals on the reverse depict the four Evangelists.

Most of these processional crosses were created for Franciscan or Dominican foundations, whence the choice of saints for the top and bottom terminals. For a survey of known processional crosses, see Offner 1956. It was Offner who first proposed an attribution to this anonymous but quite distinctive painter active from about 1365 to about 1390—an artist who takes his inspiration from the tradition initiated by Bernardo Daddi, but with a formal austerity found in the work of Orcagna, one of the outstanding painters in the middle years of the fourteenth century. He derives his name from an image of the Madonna of Mercy in the Galleria dell'Accademia, Florence, and is thus known alternatively as the Master of the Misericordia or the Master of the Orcagnesque Misericordia, the latter being the nomenclature of Offner. The Accademia’s picture has been dated to about 1375–80 (see Luisa Marcucci, I dipinti toscani del secolo XIV: Cataloghi dei musei e gallerie d’italia, Rome, 1965, pp. 133–35); the MMA’s Crucifix is dated by Boskovits (1975) to about 1370–75. Boskovits has noted that in this master’s work there is a tendency towards simplification, a turn away from spontaneity and freshness and that quality of domestic intimacy found in early-fourteenth-century paintings in favor of a greater emphasis on solid, stereometric forms and physical mass, with a preference for pure chromatic harmonies. These observations apply perfectly to the figures of the Crucifix.

[Keith Christiansen 2012]
Inscription: Inscribed (obverse): INRI
[conte Alessandro Contini Bonacossi, Rome, until 1926]; Samuel H. Kress, New York (1926–27)
Westport, Conn. Westport Community Art Association. February 12–24, 1955, no catalogue?

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Florentine Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum," June 15–August 15, 1971, no catalogue.

J[osephine]. M[cCarrell]. L[ansing]. "Accessions and Notes." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 23 (March 1928), pp. 91–92, identifies the saint in bottom terminal (obverse) as Bernardino.

Harry B. Wehle. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Italian, Spanish, and Byzantine Paintings. New York, 1940, pp. 14–15, ill. (obverse), as by an unknown Florentine painter from the second half of the fourteenth century; states that the style is that of the school of Orcagna.

Edoardo Arslan. Letter. April 21, 1952, considers it close to Maso di Banco.

Richard Offner. A Critical and Historical Corpus of Florentine Painting. Vol. 6, section 3, The Fourteenth Century. New York, 1956, pp. 166–67 n. 1, attributes it to the Master of the Orcagnesque Misericordia and identifies the saint in the bottom terminal (obverse) as Anthony of Padua.

Bernard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Florentine School. London, 1963, vol. 1, p. 216, lists it as by an unidentified Florentine painter, 1350–1420.

Fern Rusk Shapley. Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection. Vol. 1, Italian Schools: XIII–XV Century. London, 1966, p. 38, figs. 89–90, attributes it to the Master of the Orcagnesque Misericordia and suggests a date of about 1390; tentatively identifies the saint in the bottom terminal (obverse) as Anthony of Padua.

Federico Zeri. "Sul catalogo dei dipinti toscani del secolo XIV nelle gallerie di Firenze." Gazette des beaux-arts 71 (February 1968), p. 74, cites Offner's attribution to the Master of the Orcagnesque Misericordia.

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, p. 38, ill. pp. 36–37, date it about 1380, suggesting that it is one of the earliest known works of the Master of the Orcagnesque Misericordia; say the style blends the influences of Maso di Banco, Andrea Orcagna, and Jacopo di Cione.

Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972, pp. 132, 287, 373, 393, 396, 607, tentatively identify the saint at the bottom of the obverse as Anthony of Padua.

Miklòs Boskovits. Pittura fiorentina alla vigilia del Rinascimento, 1370–1400. Florence, 1975, p. 370, dates it 1370–75.

Richard Offner. A Critical and Historical Corpus of Florentine Painting. Ed. Hayden B. J. Maginnis. supplement, A Legacy of Attributions. New York, 1981, pp. 12, 98, identifies the saint in the bottom terminal (obverse) as Anthony of Padua.

Gerardo de Simone in Beato Angelico: L'alba del Rinascimento. Ed. Alessandro Zuccari et al. Exh. cat., Musei Capitolini, Rome. Milan, 2009, p. 222, under no. 31.

Christine Sciacca in Florence at the Dawn of the Renaissance: Painting and Illumination, 1300–1350. Ed. Christine Sciacca. Exh. cat., J. Paul Getty Museum. Los Angeles, 2012, p. 103, identifies the figure on the bottom terminal of the obverse as Saint Bonaventure; notes the blue cross.

Andrea Bayer. "Collecting North Italian Paintings at The Metropolitan Museum of Art." A Market for Merchant Princes: Collecting Italian Renaissance Paintings in America. Ed. Inge Reist. University Park, Pa., 2015, pp. 111–12, dates it about 1450 [sic].