Bernardo Daddi (documented 1328-1348) - inv. 3195
This a masterpiece from the maturity of Bernardo Daddi, a follower of Giotto working in Florence from 1328 to 348..
This type of cross, with holy images on both sides, is called ‘astile’, because it was shown to the faithful during processions, held on a long pole (asta in Italian). On one side Daddi painted three beheaded saints, kneeling: at the top, Saint Paul, with a black pointed beard; on the left, Saint James the Greater; on the right, Saint John the Baptist, with unkempt hair and beard. These unusual macabre images indicates that the cross was originally destined to comfort those sentenced to death.
In past centuries, groups of people gathered in confraternities, assumed the task of taking religious comfort to the condemned, attempting to persuade them to accept death following the example of Jesus and of the martyrs. The Dominican saints depicted at the bottom, Saints Peter the Martyr and Thomas of Aquinas, indicate that the confraternity that commissioned this work was supported by the Dominican friars. On the other side of the cross, beside the traditional images of the Virgin Mary, Saint John the Evangelist and the Redeemer there is the unusual figure, at the bottom, of a skeletal corpse, probably the condemned dressed in the black tunic of the execution.
This cross is one of the earliest examples of paintings for comforting the condemned. The typology was very rare in the 14th century, but became more common in the 15th and 16th centuries.