Florence: Cross no. 432 at the Uffizi

Cross no. 432.

It is the oldest object currently in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence: a crucifix that has been dated to ca. 1180-1200 and that is simply known as Cross no. 432. The painter is unknown and therefore usually just called the Master of Crucifix no. 432. The crucifix was painted on wood in or around Florence. The work is still very medieval in style and strong influences from Byzantine art are evident. These were not yet the days of Cimabue, Duccio or Giotto. But the work is of great historical interest for those who want to reconstruct the history of painting in Tuscany.

This is a large painting, measuring 277 by 231 centimetres. The central figure is the crucified Christ, who is painted in a very stylised way, with no emotions whatsoever. He does not suffer, even though his hands and feet are nailed to the cross and some blood seems to trickle down from the wounds. Christ is standing up straight, his arms extended as if in triumph. And indeed, this is a triumphant Christ, a Christ who has triumphed over death. The Master of the Crucifix made no attempt to depict the Son of God realistically. The pear-shaped belly looks rather eccentric. And yet the crucifix is full of intricate little details. The folds in the loincloth are rather well done, and so is the knot in the belt. Above Christ’s head is the traditional titulus with the words IHS NAZARENUS REX IUDEORUM, Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.

The kiss of Judas.

The scene of the Crucifixion is enlivened with several miniature paintings. Take a look at the crossbeam for instance. On either side we find depictions of saints. On the left are the Virgin Mary and Saint John the Evangelist, on the right another female saint, perhaps Mary Magdalene. The body of Christ is surrounded by seven scenes from his Passion. Christ is shown with his disciples in the first scene on the left. In the next scene, he is arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. We see Judas giving the kiss of Judas – perhaps the earliest depiction in European art, and certainly older than other, more famous examples in Padova – and Saint Peter cutting off Malchus’ ear. After his arrest, Jesus is scourged, which is shown in the third scene. The scene below Christ’s feet is damaged and difficult to make out, but it probably depicts the Ascent to Calvary. The story then continues on the right with the Deposition from the Cross, a Pietà and the Resurrection.

All of these scenes would have been immediately recognisable for someone living in twelfth century Tuscany. We are fortunate that this 800-year-old crucifix has not succumbed to the rigors of time. After a thorough restoration in 2013 it looks better than ever.

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