Or are you looking for Search the Archives?

Please complete the form to email this item.

Altar cross

Altar cross

  • Place of origin:

    Siena (town) (made)

  • Date:

    1490 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Antonius Federici (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    silver, gilding, engraving

  • Credit Line:

    Dr W.L. Hildburgh Bequest

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Physical description

Altar cross of silver-gilt plaques nailed to a wooden core; the enamelling that would originally have coloured the plaques now completely lost. The plaques on the front of the cross, from top to bottom and left to right, represent: God the Father, holding an orb and his right hand raised in a gesture of blessing; the Virgin Mary; the pelican in her piety; St John; Mary Magdalen. The crucified figure of Christ that would have been applied over the image of the pelican in the centre of the cross is missing. On the reverse of the cross, from top to bottom and left to right: Evangelist symbol of an eagle, for St John; Evangelist symbol of an angel, for St Matthew; applied gilt figure of a bishop; Evangelist symbol of a winged lion, for St Mark; Evangelist symbol of an ox, for St Luke. The figure of a bishop-saint (St Martin?), one hand raised in blessing, the other holding a crozier (the crook missing) is applied to the quatrefoil plaque in the centre of the cross.

Place of Origin

Siena (town) (made)


1490 (made)


Antonius Federici (maker)

Materials and Techniques

silver, gilding, engraving

Marks and inscriptions

On the first day of 1490 Antonius Federici made [this cross]
The 'V' in 'ANTV' is in fact an inverted 'A'.
The dated signature is inscribed on a plaque on the reverse of the cross, below the figure of a bishop applied in the centre.

VE / illi / p[er] / qve[m] / s[an]c/[t]A
Woe / to him / who [the] holy
The text is inscribed on the open book beside the eagle of St John, in the upper quatrefoil on the front of the cross. It does not coincide with any verse in St John's Gospel, but may be an allusion to the verses in Matthew 26: 24 and Mark 14:21: 'Filius quidem hominis vadit sicut scriptum est de illo vae autem homini illi per quem Filius hominis traditur bonum erat ei si natus non fuisset homo ille' ('The Son of man indeed goeth, as it is written of him: but woe to that man by whom the Son of man shall be betrayed: it were better for him, if that man had not been born': see Douai Rheims Bible.)

LV/X / M/VN/[D]I
Light of the world
Inscribed on the open book beside the angel of St Matthew, on the left arm of the front side of the cross. The phrase 'light of the world' is usually a reference to Christ, but in the Gospel of St Matthew it is used by Christ Himself to describe the crowds who listen to him preach. See Matthew 5:14 (Christ's 'Sermon on the Mount').

Christus (Christ)
Inscribed on the cover of the book beside the ox, symbol of St Luke, in the plaque at the foot of the front of the cross.


Height: 29.5 cm includes stub of wood from core at foot of cross, Width: 24 cm maximum width, Depth: 1.5 cm maximum depth

Object history note

Nothing is known of the early history of the cross. It was given to the Museum in 1956, together with several other crosses and religious objects, by W. L. Hildburgh. In 1966 plaques on the cross were subjected to spectographic analysis by the Assay Office at Goldsmiths' Hall (London). The results indicated 'that the silver is of an early period, certainly [...] earlier than the second half of the 16th century [...] the silver is a very low standard' (letter dated 28th February, 1966, to the Keeper of the Metalwork Department, Charles Oman: see register in Metalwork Section).
The identity of 'Antonius Federici' is unclear. The verb 'fecit' ('made') is ambiguous and could refer to the goldsmith and/or enameller responsible for the work, or the patron who commissioned the cross. There is no 'Antonius (or 'Antonio') Federici' listed as a goldsmith in Machetti (1929) or Milanesi (1854). He is not to be confused with the sculptor and architect 'Antonio Federighi' who was employed for the building works of Siena cathedral in the 1450s (Milanesi: 1854, II, pp. 436-37; Richter: 2010, 'Federighi, Antonio'). No clear candidate for patron in late-fifteenth-century Siena has emerged, either.

Historical significance: This particular altar cross is unusual because it includes a dated inscription which refers either to the patron or to the maker. Its materials, construction, form and iconography are consistent with many other examples of Tuscan crosses that have survived from this period (see for instance in Baracchini: 1993, vol. II). The raised hands of the Virgin are a form of mourning gesture which by the late-fifteenth-century was beginning to replace the earlier gesture of raised, clasped hands. St John's hands outstretched in mourning represent are less usual, as by this date he tends to place one hand on his chest (for the gestures of both saints, see Baracchini: 1993, II, nos 166 and 168). It is unfortunate that the translucent enamel that would originally have coloured the applied plaques has now disappeared.

Descriptive line

altar cross, silver-gilt on a wooden core, Italy, probably Siena, 1490, possibly Antonius Federici

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Milanesi, Gaetano. Documenti per la storia dell' arte senese. 3 vols. Siena: Onorato Porri, 1854).
Machetti, Ippolitto. Orafi senesi. In: La Diana: Rassegna d' arte e vita senese. 7.1 (1929), 5 - 109.
Elinor M. Richter. "Federighi, Antonio." Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. 26 Oct. 2010 .
Baracchini, Clara. Oreficeria sacra a Lucca dal XIII al XV secolo. 2 vols. Florence: Edizioni Scelte, 1993.


Silver; Gold


Engraving; Gilding; Enamelling; Casting


Metalwork Collection

Large image request

Please confirm you are using these images within the following terms and conditions, by acknowledging each of the following key points:

Please let us know how you intend to use the images you will be downloading.