UNKNOWN MASTER, Italian
(active 2nd half of 12th century)
Tempera on wood, 288 x 243 cm
Two Benedictine nuns commissioned this panel from the painters 'Nicolaus' and Johannes' to expound the entire scheme of Christian justice.
This panel of an unusual shape (round with a rectangular base) comes from the Oratory of San Gregorio Nazianzeno in Roma. The depiction of the last Judgement is divided into five overlapping phases, each with an explicative text in Latin: starting from the top, in the first we see Christ between cherubs and angels; in the second Christ before an altar between two angels and the twelve Apostles. In the third, more complicated, there are three scenes: on the left St Paul who guides the Elect, in the centre the Virgin and St Stephen who intercede for the Holy Innocents and on the right three Works of Mercy (Dress the naked, Visit the imprisoned, Give the thirsty drink).
The fourth band illustrates the Resurrection of the Dead (on the left fish and ferocious animals spit out the limbs of the devoured bodies, on the right two angels wake the dead in the tombs to the sound of the apocalyptic trumpets). Finally, on the base of the table we find Hell and Heavenly Jerusalem with the Virgin praying among the Elect. Before its walls are portrayed the donors (identified by a text): the abbess Costanza and the nun Benedetta.
The work is signed by Nicolaus and Johannes. The dating is quite controversial. In the past it oscillated between the end of the XI and the second half of the XII centuries, whereas today the latter is considered the most likely.