MASTER of the Osservanza
(active 1430-1450 in Siena)
The Descent into Limboc. 1445
Tempera and gold on wood, 38 x 47 cm
Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge
This painting is one of five Passion panels from the predella of an unidentified altarpiece. The imagery of Christ breaking down hell's door and trapping a hairy Satan is traditional.
Until at least the mid-fifteenth century, several Sienese painters continued to create highly original works within their broadly shared pictorial language. The Master of the Osservanza's Descent into Limbo stands out, above all by its weird colour. No reproduction can quite convey the peculiar radiance of Christ's aureole - palest yellow with hints of pale violet - pressing into the utter blackness of the cave. The surface is oddly enamel-like, smooth and dense.