Simone di Filippo, called Dei Crocifissi

(Documented in Bologna from 1354 - died 1399)

Christ on the Cross with the Mourning Virgin, Saint John the Evangelist and Saint Mary Magdalen, c. 1396

Tempera on gold ground panel, 43 x 33 cm (16.93 x 12.99 inches)

  • Reference: 681
  • Provenance: Private collection

G. Del Monaco, in The Middle Ages and Early Renaissance: Paintings and Sculptures from the Carlo De Carlo Collection and other Provenance, Florence 2011, pp 54-57

This trapezoidal panel may originally have formed the central pinnacle of a polyptych or the central panel of a triptych with folding panels or even one of the two parts of a diptych made for personal devotion. The absence of the original cornice prevents us from advancing more precise hypotheses on the type of object under examination. The painting is on the whole in a good state of preservation, although the gilding of the background appears impoverished, in some areas revealing the red-coloured base preparation, and the figures have lost some of the finishings that must have softened the chiaroscuro contrasts. Still fully visible is the punched decoration on the halos of the four protagonists. The punch used consisted of a ‘palmetta’ within an oval, corresponding to type 43 of the classification carried out years ago by Letizia Lodi, who identified this type of punch only in the paintings of Simone di Filippo. The iconography of the Crucified Christ on the Cross with Mourners is a simplified version of the Crucifixion, a scene particularly appropriate for meditation in front of the image. The choice of this subject in the painting on wood of the Italian Trecento was normally combined with the Coronation of the Virgin, an image that emphasized the role of Mary, mother of Christ and queen of the Church, in the redemption of mankind, made possible through the sacrifice of her Son on the Cross. The painting appears in this context for the first time. The attribution to the Bolognese painter Simone di Filippo, called ‘dei Crocifissi’ at the time of the Counter-reformation, was proposed by Daniele Benati and is confirmed by a comparison with other works by the painter representing the same subject, including notably the central pinnacle of the signed polyptych no. 298 of the Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna. In these works, which in all probability are chronologically near the predella of the polyptych executed not before 1396 for the Cospi chapel in San Petronio, today in the Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna (nos. 274-275), Simone shows that he has now acquired a consistent formal style in which he consolidates the lively expressiveness of the early decades of activity, observable for example in the Crucifixions of polyptych no. 254 of the Pinacoteca di Bologna or the panel of the Detroit Institute of Arts. The somewhat bulky figures are arranged within a simplified setting and their faces, made grim by the accentuated chiaroscuro and by their simplified features, contribute to communicating the pathos of the scene in a direct and immediately comprehensible way. The success obtained with his Bolognese patrons and the easy replicability of Simone’s mature style may explain the oscillating quality of the painter’s works, noted for the first time by Roberto Longhi. In fact, the increase in the artist’s production, confirmed by the fairly large number of surviving paintings to be placed chronologically between the Madon- na di Giovanni da Piacenza of 1378 and the predella of the Cospi polyptych of ca. 1396, inevitably meant that the quality varied considerably according to the amount of work put into it, in general consistently high in the paintings destined for ecclesiastical use. Although not reaching the level of the central pinnacle of polyptych no. 298 of the Pinacoteca di Bologna, the panel under examination is nonetheless of an average and appreciable quali- ty, being perhaps comparable with the Crucified Christ among Mourners formerly in the Ergas collection in Florence, of a similar format, in the same scene represented in the central compartment of the triptych with folding panels of the Ashmolean Museum of Oxford and in the signed Coronation of the Pinacoteca Civica di Pavia.

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