- Place of origin:
Umbria (probably, made)
ca. 1370-1380 (made)
- Materials and Techniques:
glass backed with engraved gold foil
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
Medieval & Renaissance, Room 10, case 2
This panel uses a process known as verre eglomisé (or gilded glass). This involved the gilding of the reverse of the glass sheet, then scratching away the design, and painting the reverse with a dark colour, or covering it with a dark material, to let the design stand out. The technique is described in detail in Cennino Cennini's 'Il Libro dell'arte', probably written in the late 1300s or early 1400s. The image of Christ's face (the Ecce Homo) in the upper border is painted separately onto parchment, and fixed onto the reverse of the glass.
We cannot be certain about the original function of this plaque, but it probably formed part of a reliquary. Verre eglomisé reliquary diptychs, often with a combination of the Crucifixion and the Nativity, were produced in some number in Umbria during the 14th century. But the main group of Umbrian diptychs are all relatively simple with a style that is crude in comparison to the V&A panel. There are a few surviving objects which link slightly more closely to this plaque, including a diptych wing showing the Crucifixion with saints from the Bargello, Florence, which includes a similar selection of saints.
The borders of the Umbrian diptychs contain multiple relic cavities with detailed labels, but the V&A plaque has no large spaces for relics or labels. Assuming the added image of the Ecce Homo in the upper border is original, the small spaces between the full-length saints in either border are the only available visible spaces for relics. The plaque may therefore have been set within a larger structure, as were several of the other surviving examples.
The presence of St Francis, and the other bishop saint (probably St Louis of Toulouse) is likely to indicate a Franciscan link. The majority of the surviving objects in this medium with any known provenance belong to Franciscan houses - several survive at Assisi for example. But most verre eglomisé reliquaries were intended for private ownership. The presence of Franciscan saints need not have indicated a specifically Franciscan ownership - the order strongly encouraged private devotion in general.
Opinion has been divided over whether this panel comes from northern Italy or Umbria. The vast majority of surviving works in this unusual medium are linked to Umbria, and links have also been pointed out between the style of this plaque and Umbrian book illumination.
The rectangular sheet of glass is divided into a central panel with a border around the three upper sides. The lower border is lost.
The central panel shows a Crucifixion scene. Christ has a cruciform halo and a semi-transparent loin cloth. He is flanked by two angels on each side, who catch his blood in chalices, and gesticulate in mourning. Below him is a crowd of people. To the left is the standing haloed figure of St John the Evangelist, with a group of Holy Women at his feet, kneeling around the reclining figure of the Virgin.To the right is a group of Roman soldiers holding spears, including an elaborately armoured full-length figure, and one with a splendid winged helmet. To the far right are two full-length male figures in close conversation - the right-hand figure gestures back towards Christ.
In the left-hand border, from the top are a half-length figure of St John the Baptist, a full-length St Peter, and a full-length St Paul. In the right-hand border, from the top, are a half-length bishop saint, a full-length St Francis, and the full-length figure of St Louis of Toulouse (identifiable by the fleur-de-lys on his robe). All the full-length saints stand under architectural canopies. Between the two full-length saints on either side is a clear area of glass which probably once covered relics.
In the top border is a lozenge-shaped compartment where the glass has also been left clear. Below this is visible a separate image of Christ's face, painted on a piece of paper/parchment and stuck to the underside of the glass. It is surrounded by a schematised foliage design in gold.
Most of the design is in gold backed with black. Certain features are picked out using coloured highlights.
Place of Origin
Umbria (probably, made)
ca. 1370-1380 (made)
Materials and Techniques
glass backed with engraved gold foil
Height: 19.6 cm with modern frame, Width: 17.1 cm with modern frame, Depth: 0.8 cm with modern frame, Height: 16.3 cm without frame, Width: 14 cm without frame
Object history note
Bought for £10
Historical context note
We cannot be certain about the original function of this plaque, but it is most likely originally to have formed part of a reliquary.
Verre eglomisé reliquary diptychs, often with a combination of the Crucifixion and the Nativity, were produced in some number in Umbria during the 14th century. The rectangular plaques making up these diptychs did typically each have a central scene, with border figures, as in 4486-1858. But the main group of Umbrian diptychs are all very similar, and look quite different to this plaque. They have very simple Crucifixions, mostly with just Christ, the Virgin and St John, while the V&A scene is crowded with figures. Their style is also different to the V&A plaque - they are much simpler, and less elegant and detailed in execution.
There are surviving objects which link slightly more closely to the V&A plaque. One example is a Nativity scene from the Museo Civico, Turin, no. 245. The scene is surrounded by a border with full-length saints (including Sts Paul, ?Peter, John the Baptist) , and blacked out areas, rather than relics with inscriptions (Gordon, 1972, cat. no. 18, p.107, fig. XVI). Another example is a diptych wing showing the Crucifixion with saints from the Bargello, Florence (Gordon 1972, cat. no. 20, pp.108-0, fig. XVIIIb), which includes saints Peter, Paul, Francis and Louis of Toulouse. Parallels for the fleshy leaves either side of the Ecce Homo on the upper side of 4486-1858 can be found in a plaque of The Man of Sorrows (Gordon 1972, cat. no. 31, pp.119-20, fig.XXIII).
The borders of the Umbrian diptychs contain multiple relic cavities, each labelled up in some detal, while the V&A plaque has no large spaces for relics or labels. The Fourth Lateran Council (1215) ordered that relics should be displayed in suitable settings, and that they should have identifying inscriptions, although adherance to such edicts was not total. Assuming the added image of the Ecce Homo in the upper border is original, the small spaces between the full-length saints in either border are the only available visible spaces for relics on this plaque, and there would be little space for an inscription. It may therefore have been set within a larger structure, as were several of the other surviving verre eglomisé plaques (eg the four plaques set into an altarpiece in the Pinacoteca Civica, Gubbio).
The presence of St Francis, and St Louis of Toulouse (identifiable by the fleur-de-lys on his vestments) is likely to indicate a Franciscan link. The majority of the surviving objects in this medium with any known provenance belong to Franciscan houses - several survive at Assisi for example (see C. de Benedictis, 'Percorso di Fra Pietro Teutonico: Devozione e Artigianato', Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz, 2000, pp.111-12). But most verre eglomisé reliquaries were intended for private ownership, and the presence of Franciscan saints need not have indicated a specifically Franciscan ownership. The order strongly encouraged private devotion. For example, the activities of the order fuelled an increase in demand for small tabernacles during the 1330s and 1340s in Florence (R. Offner, A Critical Corpus of Florentine Painting, New York, 1930, section III, vol. VIII, p. 8).
Verre eglomisé panel showing the Crucifixion and saints
Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)
F Cerri and E Lunghi, 'Opere di seguaci di Puccio Capanna', Puccio Capanna, Assisi, 1989, pp.65-6, and fig. 34
W B Honey, 'Gold-engraving under glass', Connoisseur, vol. XCII, 1933, p.377, fig. IX.
G. Swarzenski, 'The Localisation of Medieval Verre Eglomisé in the Walters Collection', Journal of the Walters Art Gallery, 1940, p.60, fig. 5.
P. Toesca, 'Vetri Italiani a oro con graffiti del XIV e XV secolo', L'Arte, 1908, p.6, fig. 4
D. Gordon, The Gilded Glass Madonna in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, unpublished MA thesis, Courtauld Institute of Art, 1972, cat. no. 40, fig. XXXI. Also, p.87, note 58.
Theories as to the attribution of this panel have been divided between northern Italy (Honey 1933, Swarzenski 1940, Toesca 1951) and Umbria, particularly relating to the school of Puccio Capanna (see Cerri and Lunghi 1989 for a full list). The Giottesque style of the central crucifixion is obvious, but this has been taken as backing up both theories. The Giottesque school is obviously central to Umbrian artistic production, most notably at Assisi, while the plaque has also been linked to Altichiero, who worked at Padua and Verona in a distinctly Giottesque style.
The vast majority of surviving works in this unusual medium are linked to Umbria, although the technique was described in great detail in the technical handbook which Cennino Cennini wrote in late 14th century Padua.
Gordon 1972 pointed out similarities between the style of 4486-1858 and Umbrian miniature painting, in particular F. Santi, Catalogo della Galleria Nazionale dell'Umbria, fig. 71, p.87, particularly the face of St John.