UNKNOWN MASTER, Italian
(active mid-13th century in Umbria)

Crucifix

1257
Tempera on panel, 160 x 101 cm
Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Rome

The exact identification of the names of the two painters, active in Umbria during the middle of the thirteenth century was discovered in 1948. The painting is signed and dated at the foot of the cross: "Simone et Machilon pinserunt Hoc opus Anno Domini MCCLVII Domina Maria fieri Fecit". Because it is one of the very few dated crosses from its period, this panel is an important reference point for the chronological reconstruction of thirteenth century central Italian workshop activity.

Stylistically, the design follows the Giunta Pisano Crucifix in the church of San Domenico in Bologna, datable to around 1250 and the known prototype for a number of late thirteenth century crosses. This series has its finest expression in the Crucifix that Cimabue painted for Santa Croce in around 1287-88. Yet though they adhere strictly to the model of Giunta, especially in iconographic aspects, Simone and Machilone show some original characteristics, above all in the attenuation and hardness of line in the figure of Christ, less severe and more human in the National Gallery cross. Likewise, Simone and Machilone render anatomic details less schematically than their prototype. From Giunta, on the other hand, the artists inherit the languid abandon of the dead body of Christ, which they interpret with perfect mastery. Also masterfully rendered is the complex Hebraic drapery wrapped around the body, different from the brown drapery of Giunta's Christ, which provided the prototype for another Cross, attributed to Coppo di Marcovaldo, in the Pinacoteca of San Gimignano.

Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 12 minutes):
Gregorian chants