The Crucifixion with the Virgin and Saint John; St Anthony Abbot at the foot of the Cross
- Place of origin:
Florence, Italy (painted)
ca. 1370 (painted)
Spinello, Aretino (Circle of, production)
Barnaba da Modena (Formerly attributed to, production)
- Materials and Techniques:
tempera and gilt on canvas (painted on both sides)
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
Medieval and Renaissance, room 10, case 11
Spinello Aretino (1350/52-1410) was born in Arezzo, Tuscany and most likely first trained in the family workshop before deriving his art from the influence of such important masters of the 13th century as Maso di Banco (active 1336-1346), Buffalmacco (ca. 1314-ca. 1351) and Giotto (1266/67-1337). He achieved a rapid success and received his most important commissions in Arezzo, Lucca, Florence, Pisa and Siena. His art had a great impact on the development of the next generation of Tuscan artists including Late Gothic painters such as Lorenzo Monaco and the Master of the Straus Madonna as well as Masaccio and his generation.
This painting was originally a double-sided banner for the confraternity of Sts Anthony Abbot and Eligius in Borgo Sansepolcro, Tuscany. Such confraternities were generally occupied with healing the sick and burying the dead. This explains the presence of St. Eligius, a 7th-century French bishop whose good works included burial of the dead. The banner is a rare example of the very few surviving banners from the 14th century and was probably made by an artist in the immediate circle of Spinello Aretino whose art was most influential in Tuscany at the time.
A two-sided processional banner. One side shows the Crucifixion, with the Virgin and St John the Evangelist on either side. In the upper register, four lamenting angels surround Christ, three hold chalices to receive the blood from Christ's wounds. St Anthony Abbot kneels at the foot of the cross and holds the base of the Crucifix. The other side of the banner depicts the enthroned St Anthony Abbot and St Eligius. Four members of a flagellant confraternity, identifiable by the hooded white robes with the holes cut out the back, are on the lower right and left, looking up at the saints. Each side is framed by a border in which red and dark brown panels alternate. The panels are separated by medallions in which busts of saints (on the St Anthony and St Eligius side) and prophets (on the Crucifixion side) appear. Due to damage, not all of the figures can be identified however the visible attributes suggest the identifications. On the Sts Anthony and Eligius side, the order is as follows: Upper left, unrecognizable, middle two medallions: the Angel Gabriel and the Annunciate Virgin, far right damaged. Right side: damaged (St John the Baptist?), St Catherine of Alessandria, an unidentified Franciscan, a Cardinal (probably St Jerome). Bottom (reading from right to left, to left of Jerome) St Helen, St Agatha, a pope (probably Gregory the Great). Left side (reading from bottom to top), St Agnes, St Lawrence, Mary Magdalene, deacon saint (?) (perhaps St Steven).
On the Crucifixion side, the order is as follows: the upper section four medallions, all illegible, right side, second medallion (reading down) illegible, third medallion Samuel, fourth Abraha(m), bottom (reading from right to left) David, third possibly Enoch, fourth damaged, left side reading from bottom to top, Jonathan (?) Habakkuk, possibly Daniel, fifth illegible.
Place of Origin
Florence, Italy (painted)
ca. 1370 (painted)
Spinello, Aretino (Circle of, production)
Barnaba da Modena (Formerly attributed to, production)
Materials and Techniques
tempera and gilt on canvas (painted on both sides)
Height: 185.5 cm estimate, Width: 125 cm estimate, Depth: 1.4 cm
Object history note
Purchased from A.L. Collie of Old Bond Street, London for £89.5, 1894. The banner was not yet attributed to Barnaba da Modena and described as a "banner painted on both sides in tempera in wood frame."
Historical significance: 781-1894 is a confraternal banner, i.e. a double faced large canvas of either square or upright rectangular shape bound to a lance shaft, which became the most common form of flag in Europe from the 13th century. It was used to display heraldic charges of communities and royal arms in procession. Although evidence for confraternal banners exists in documents and illustrated manuscripts, their fragile nature has allowed very few to survive. Painted on canvas or silk, banners were exposed to the elements and the fabric tended to suffer damage. The survival of the V&A banner, from such an early date, is highly unusual. Dehmer listed only six banners from the late 14th to early 15th centuries that have survived; three from the Marche, two from Tuscany and one from the Venetian island of Torcello.
The origin of the V&A banner is unclear. Following Berenson, Kauffmann attributed it to Barnaba da Modena and proposed that it may have come from a flagellant confraternity dedicated to St. Anthony in Genoa. He also noted that there was a banner painted by Luca Signorelli for a company dedicated to St. Anthony and St. Eligius in Borgo Sansepolcro that has a similar composition to that of the V&A banner. According to D. Cooper and T. Henry, 781-1894 was in fact originally made for the Confraternity of Saint Anthony Abbot in Borgo Sansepolcro, which has been later replaced by Luca Signorelli's large canvas banner still in situ (D. Franklin, 2010). Furthermore Signorelli’s banner replicates the same iconography as the V&A work except from the addition of the scene of the swooning Virgin and the representation of the two saints seated rather than standing. All these elements tend to point at a Tuscan artist active in the late 14th century and possibly associated with Spinello Aretino whose Crucifixion in the Museo Nazionale di Villa Guinigi, Lucca presents an almost identical crucified Christ. In addition, Spinello Aretino is recorded to have supplied one other confraternity banner to Sansepolcro of a similar size.
The association of the two saints, Anthony and Eligius, appears to be quite rare in Italian art and particularly focused on Sansepolcro. In fact, St Anthony Abbot and St Eligius are represented on a relief from the church of Sant’Antonio also in Borgo Sansepolcro. The saints are also shown together in a fresco currently in the Museo Civico di Sansepolcro. St Eligius is shown wearing a red cloak, hat and holding a horse’s hoof, with St Anthony Abbot who holds a bell, on one side of an enthroned Virgin and Child. The two saints are separated by an unidentified coat of arms. On the other side of the throne, St Catherine of Alexandria is shown with her spiked wheel. The unusual imbalance of this composition, with the two saints on one side and St Catherine on the other suggests that Sts Eligius and Anthony Abbot were seen as a pair in San Sepolcro, and may provide further evidence for the provenance of the V&A banner.
St Eligius was the patron saint of goldsmiths and blacksmiths. St Anthony Abbot was the patron saint of a variety of professions; including caretakers of animals (especially pigs), glove makers, weavers, shearers, butchers, delicatessen owners, basket makers, and gravediggers. There was also a religious order dedicated to St Anthony which was founded at the church of St.Antoine de Viennois. This order founded hospitals (mainly to care for skin related diseases, such as “St Anthony’s Fire” a type of eruption on the skin along the nerve endings). The monks wore black robes with a blue Tau as their symbol – similar to that of St Anthony in the V&A banner, though his has gold striations. It is possible that the large amount of gold on the banner – including on his robe, on the background and on St Eligius’ robe could allude to the high presence of goldsmiths in the confraternity at Borgo San Sepolcro and thus also explain the presence of St Eligius, who is dressed as a wealthy layman in a red fur-lined cloak with what appear to be gold buttons or trim (Bodger).
Historical context note
Confraternities (also known as brotherhoods, sodalities or companies) played important roles in daily life in Italy from the 1200s onwards. Laymen (and sometimes women) joined these mutual aid societies in order to provide insurance for their families, and to participate in acts of charity. Each confraternity had a patron saint, and could be based in parish churches, mendicant churches, or chapels attached to hospitals. The earliest confraternities were called laudesi companies and were dedicated to singing hymns to the Madonna. Brotherhoods could also be made up of members of a particular guild, neighborhood or nationality.
After the mid1400s, the brotherhoods tended to build their own private oratories which included a meeting space, a chapel and storage rooms for processional gear. Such gear could include processional crosses, banners which depicted their patron saint, and the hooded robes that members wore in order to protect their identities.
Penitential confraternities were also known as flagellant companies, compagnie di battuti or disciplinati. They grew out of the flagellant processions involving men, women and children which swept over the Italian peninsula during the 1200s at the urging of Raniero Fasani, a preacher from Umbria. They were soon prohibited by the pope, who saw them as heretical. The plague of 1348 caused their revival, only this time in the form of smaller, more tightly organized confraternities.
Flagellant confraternities tended to be city-wide, often associated with hospitals, and restricted to men. Flagellants’ robes had holes cut out in the back in order that they might whip themselves. In the 1400s flagellation was not as common in processions and was more often carried out as a group activity in one room in the oratory, usually under the cover of darkness on Friday evenings.
Religious processions on saints’ feast days or holidays were a common feature of the Renaissance city. The brothers would wear matching robes that identified them as members, and the lead man often carried a banner with an image of the company’s patron saint on one side, and an image of Christ or the crucifixion on the other side. This ensured that an image on each side would be seen as the procession moved through the town. After their use in processions, banners could be stored in the company’s oratory or displayed on the oratory’s altar.
A double-sided processional banner showing the Crucifixion and the Sts Anthony Abbot and Eligius, Circle of Spinello Aretino, ca. 1370
Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)
Bernhard Berenson, Italian pictures of the renaissance Oxford : Clarendon Press, 1932, p. 42
Cambiaso, D. "Casacce e Confraternite Medievale in Genova e Liguria," Acti della Societa Ligure di Storia Patria, lxxi, 1948, pp.81-111.
Kauffmann, C. M. "Barnaba da Modena and the Flagellants of Genoa," V&A Museum Bulletin, ii, 1966, pp. 12-20.
Pesenti, F. "Barnabas de Mutina Pinxit in Janua": I polittici di Murcia", Bollettino d'Arte, 53, I, 1968, pp.22-27.
Algeri, Giuliana, "L'attivita tarda di Barnaba da Modena: una nuova ipotesi di ricostruzione," Arte Cristiana, 1989, v.77, no.732, pp.189-210, p.201.
V&A banner as demonstrating influence of Barnaba
Algeri, G. and De Floriani, A., La pittura in Liguria: Il Quattrocento, Genoa, 1991, figs.14-15
as "Circle of Barnaba da Modena" (crucifix) and "Follower of Barnaba da Modena" (Saints)
Algeri, Giuliana. "Ai confini del medioevo," in La pittura in Liguria. Il Quattrocento, eds. G. Algeri and A. De Floriani, Genova 1991, p. 15-24,
Villers, C, "Paintings on canvas in fourteenth century Italy," Zeitschrift fur Kunstgeschichte 58, 1995, pp.338-358
Bodger, Caroline, "A Fourteenth Century Processional Banner by Barnaba da Modena," MA Thesis, Courtauld Institute, London, 2003.
Banker, J., The Culture of San Sepolcro during the Youth of Piero della Francesca, Ann Arbor (Michigan), 2003, pp. 165ff.
On the confraternity of Sant'Antonio Abbate and Signorelli's banner
Dehmer, A. Italienische Bruderschaftsbanner des Mittelalters und der Renaissance, Berlin, 2004, fig. 50
as "Genovese, late 14th -beginning 15th c."
100 Great Paintings in The Victoria & Albert Museum. London: V&A, 1985, p.14, 17
The following is the full text of the entry:
Barnaba da Modena active 1361-83
PROCESSIONAL BANNER: THE CRUCIFIXION WITH THE VIRGIN, ST. JOHN AND ST. ANTHONY ABBOTT ON THE FRONT AND SAINTS ANTHONY ABBOTT AND ELIGIUS ADORED BY MEMBERS OF A CONFRATERNITY ON THE BACK
Tempera on canvas, 197 x 128 cm
The identity of this painting as a processional banner may be readily inferred from its salient characteristics. It is on canvas - a medium used for hardly any other purpose in the 14th century - it is painted on both sides, it depicts members of the group that carried it, and its size accords well with its function. The border containing saints and prophets in medallions was probably typical of such banners, which could obviously not have an ordinary wooden frame. However, comparisons are difficult, for hardly any other 14th-century banners survive.
Although both sides are attributed to Barnaba da Modena, who was the leading painter in Genoa in the 1360s and 70s, they do appear very different in style. The saints' unusually awesome, dark faces, with strong white highlights, and the gold striation on otherwise flat drapery point to a very close dependence on the Italo-Byzantine tradition of the 13th century. The contrast with the Crucifixion is striking. The faces are lighter, their expressions less sternly hieratic, and the draperies are modelled to give the appearance of considerable bulk. In short, the Crucifixion shows the influence of the Tuscan tradition of the 14th century, which is so notably lacking in the portrayal of the two saints. Such a stylistic dichotomy is rare in a single work, but both styles occur in Barnaba's paintings. His tenacious adherence to the Italo-Byzantine style gave way in the 1370s to a more modern style influenced by Tuscan painting and hence a date c.1370 may be proposed for this banner.
St. Anthony Abbot carries his main attributes, a Tau cross and a bell. St. Eligius, patron of goldsmiths and blacksmiths, is holding a butteris used for paring horses' hoofs, and a severed horse's leg - a reference to the story of how he drove the devil from a vicious horse by cutting off its leg, making the sign of the Cross and sticking it on again. The kneeling worshippers wear a white, hooded habit with a circle cut out at the back. This is the habit of the lay confraternities of Flagellants; the holes at the back existed to facilitate the task of self chastisement. As St. Anthony Abbot appears on both the front and the back he was presumably the principal patron of this confraternity, and there was indeed a confraternity of Flagellants in Genoa dedicated to him, for whom this banner was most probably made. One of this confraternity's appointed tasks was healing the sick and burying the dead. This explains the presence of St. Eligius, a 7th-century French bishop whose good works included burial of the dead. Both the penitential character of the Flagellant confraternities and their dedication to the sick and dying should be seen in the context of the Black Death of 1348 and the continued epidemics that swept western Europe in the late 14th century.
Kauffmann, C.M. Catalogue of Foreign Paintings, I. Before 1800. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1973, p. 16-18, cat. no. 13
The following is the full text of the entry:
BARNABA da Modena (active before 1361; d. after 1383)
School of Genoa
His name suggests his Modenese origin, but documentary evidence indicates that he was living in Genoa from at least 1352. He is recorded as employing an assistant in 1361, which shows that he was a well-established as well as fully-trained master by that date. Apart from a commission to paint certain frescoes in the Campo Santo, Pisa, in 1380, the records point to his having spent most of his life in Genoa. A variety of formative influences have been discerned in his work, including those of the schools of Bologna and Rimini, while recently it has been suggested that his style could have been nurtured on the Italo-Byzantine tradition in Genoa itself.
Lit. F. Alizeri, Notizie dei professori del disegno in Liguria, Genoa, 1870-80, i, pp. 129-35; C. Ricci in Burl. Mag. xxiv, 1913-14, pp. 65-9; P. Rotondi, Il polittico di Barnaba da Modena a Lavagnola, Genoa, 1955; C. da Langasco and P. Rotondi, La 'Consortia degli Foresteri' a Genova, Genoa, 1957.
PAINTED PROCESSIONAL BANNER, C. 1370: THE CRUCIFIXION WITH THE VIRGIN AND ST JOHN; ST ANTHONY ABBOT AT THE FOOT OF THE CROSS. BORDER WITH 16 PROPHETS. SAINTS ANTHONY ABBOTT (LEFT) AND ELIGIUS (RIGHT) WITH TWO PAIRS OF KNEELING WORSHIPPERS AT THEIR FEET. BORDER WITH 16 SAINTS
Tempera and gilt on canvas (painted on both sides)
77 x 50 ½ (197 x 128)
Acquired as 'Italian middle 14th century', this banner was attributed to Barnaba by Berenson in 1932 and his attribution has been generally accepted. A difference in style between the two sides may be discerned, for the two saints are more archaic than the figures in the Crucifixion. Their dark faces with strong white highlights, and the gold striation on otherwise flat draperies point to a very close dependence on the early Italo-Byzantine style, whereas the lighter faces and softly modelled draperies in the Crucifixion indicate a style more in keeping with the Giottesque tendencies of the 14th century. Both of these stylistic variations occur in Barnaba's work. The style of the saints is close to that of the Madonna at Berlin, dated 1369; the Crucifixion is nearer to his later works of the period c. 1374-77. This need not, however, imply a time-lag between the two sides. The Madonna of 1370 at Turin has much lighter faces than the Berlin Madonna of the previous year and it would seem reasonable, therefore, to date the banner c. 1370, when Barnaba was just beginning to move away from his earlier, Byzantining style.
St Anthony Abbot carries his main attributes - a tau cross and a bell. St Eligius, the patron of goldsmiths and blacksmiths, is usually shown with a hammer and scales or else with an anvil; here, however, his instruments may be identified as a butteris, used for paring horses' hoofs, and a knife. He is shown holding similar instruments in Luca Signorelli's banner of c. 1505, to which reference will be made later.
The kneeling worshippers wear a white habit with a hood and circle cut out at the back. This is the habit of the lay confraternities of Flagellants, or Disciplinati, and, in view of St Anthony's reappearance at the foot of the cross, it seems likely that he was its principal patron.
There was, indeed a Confraternity of Flagellants dedicated to St Anthony in Genoa; it is recorded as early as 1232 in the Church of San Domenico (Domus Disciplinatorum S. Antonii in Conventu S. Dominici). The penitential movement which had originated in Italy in the early 13th century had gathered momentum with the sermons of St Anthony Abbot in 1225 and those of Raineri Fasani, hermit of Borgo San Sepolcro, in 1260. Such was the enthusiasm engendered in the 1260s for the Disciplinati that the other confraternities in Genoa all but disappeared in the face of their great popularity.
The rules of the Confraternity are outlined in a document of 1410, and among the appointed tasks of members were those of visiting and curing the sick and assisting at the funerals of the dead. Hence it was usual for a Confraternity of Disciplinati to build a hospital near their church. This was probably also the case in Genoa, but unfortunately the documents relating to the foundation of hospitals in that city are no longer extant. There was a hospital of St Anthony in Genoa, but it does not appear to have been connected with the Confraternity.
The presence of St Eligius can be explained in connection with the Confraternity's task of burying the dead. Burial of the dead, including hanged criminals, had been among his good works and in 1188 a Confraternity of St Eligius was founded at Béthune, the aim of which was to bury the dead even in times of epidemics. In this connection St Eligius appears together with St Anthony on more than one occasion, for example at Borgo San Sepolcro both on a relief (now lost) dated 1366 over the entrance porch of St Anthony's Church (L. Coleschi, Storia della Città di Sansepolcro, 1886, p. 175) and on the banner of the Confraternity of St Anthony, painted in about 1505 by Luca Signorelli. The composition of this banner of this banner (L. Dussler, Signorelli, K d. K, 1927, pls. 130-31) is very similar to that of 781-1894.
The most important procession in which the Flagellant Confraternity of St Anthony in Genoa participated was that of the Invention of the Holy Cross. This took place each year on the 3rd May and ended at the Cathedral for the adoration of the Holy Cross, which was exposed on the main altar. It seems reasonable to infer that Barnaba's banner, with the Crucifixion on the front and Sts Anthony and Eligius with kneeling flagellants on the back, was carried in the Procession of the Holy Cross by members of the Confraternity of St Anthony in Genoa.
The Confraternity remained in San Domenico until the 15th century, when it moved to its own Oratory in the Via Giulia. Unfortunately there is no record of the banner either in San Domenico or in the Oratory, but, as Barnaba spent most of his active life in Genoa and as the list of 1410 shows that this was the only confraternity of St Anthony in that city, it is likely that the banner was made for this confraternity.
Of the prophets and saints depicted on the borders only the following can now be identified: on the Crucifixion side: left, 4th down, Habakkuk; right, 3rd down and following, Samuel, Abraham, David. On the Saints' side: top centre, the Angel of the Annunciation and the Virgin; left side, lower three, St Lawrence with the gridiron, St Agnes with a lamb, Gregory the Great; lower edge centre, St Agatha with her breasts on a platter, St Helena holding the cross; right side, centre, St Catherine with the wheel.
Condition. The canvas has been trimmed at the edges. The pigment has flaked in several places, yet the overall condition is quite good. Cleaned, but not extensively retouched, in 1957.
Prov. Flagellant Confraternity of St Anthony Abbot, Genoa (?); bought by the Museum in London (A. L. Collie, Old Bond St.) for £89 5s. in 1894.
Lit. B. Berenson, Italian pictures of the Renaissance, 1932, p. 42; ibid., Central Italian and North Italian Schools, i, 1968, p. 28; C. M. Kauffmann, 'Barnaba da Modena and the Flagellants of Genoa' in V. & A. Museum, Bulletin, ii, 1966, pp. 12-20. On the Confraternity, see: D. Cambiaso 'Casacce e confraternitate medievale in Genova e Liguria' in Atti della Società Ligure di Storia Patria, lxxi, 1948, pp. 81-111.
D. Franklin, 'Signorelli's banner and its frame for the Confraternity of St Anthony Abbot in Sansepolcro' in The Burlington Magazine, August 2010, pp. 512-516.
D. Cooper and T. Henry, 'Letter. A confraternity banner from Sansepolcro in The Victoria and Albert Museum' in The Burlington Magazine, November 2010, p. 744.
Acquired as 'Italian middle 14th century', this banner was attributed to Barnaba by Berenson in 1932 and his attribution has been generally accepted until D. Cooper and T. Henry's article, Nov. 2010.
Canvas; Gilt; Tempera
Jesus Christ; Mary (Virgin Mary); Mary Magdalene (Saint); David (King); Abraham; St. John; Gabriel (Angel); Catherine (Saint Catherine of Alexandria); Crucifixion; Agnes (Saint); Laurence (Saint); Samuel; Agatha (Saint); St Anthony Abbot; Virgin Annunciate; Helen (Saint); Habakkuk; St Eligius