Painted cross (Christus patiens)

Painted cross (Christus Patiens)

Master of the Franciscan Crucifixes

tempera on wood
198 x 157 cm
source of the artwork

Faenza, Compagnia della Santa Croce attached to the church of San Francesco Inscription: IHC NASARENVS / REX IVDEORVM

short description

The Pinacoteca di Faenza Cross depicting Christus patiens, or Christ suffering, is inspired by a crucifix painted by Giunta Pisano which once hung in the church of San Ranierino in Pisa (now Pisa, Museo Nazionale di San Matteo, inv. no. 2325), especially in the decoration of the tabelloni (the parts on either side of Christ’s body) which repeat the same lozenge motif as the San Ranierino cross. The artist, known as the Master of the Franciscan Crucifixes, has further enriched his work with the use of glass paste and metal leaf inlay to create what is tantamount to a large-scale example of the goldsmith’s art. A comparison with the cross in Pisa suggests that the crucifix must originally have been crowned by a painted disc, probably depicting Christ blessing.

The suggestion that this cross – one of the artist’s masterpieces – came from the church of San Francesco in Faenza is based on the presence in the predella of a small figure of St. Francis and on the artist’s relations with the Franciscan Order, for whom he painted all his currently known works. The Faenza church was founded in 1271, which allows us to date the cross to c. 1270–5.

inventary n°

In the cross in the Pinacoteca di Faenza, Christ is shown patiens, in other words with his eyes shut and his body creased with pain, rather than triumphans, i.e. triumphant over death with his eyes open and his body straight. The artist is likely to have drawn his inspiration for this model – so much closer to the new, more empathetic form of piety preached by the mendicant orders – from the crucifixes of Giunto Pisano, including from a cross in San Domenico in nearby Bologna.

The superb quality of the Faenza cross is revealed by the extremely fine chrysography of Christ’s loincloth, the elegant decoration adorning the Virgin’s mantle and the soft, subtle folds of St. John’s tunic. A crucial role, however, is also played by the tabelloni decorated with lozenges, with the insertion of mirrors and glass paste imitating precious fabrics. In the adornment of these parts of the cross, the Master very probably drew his inspiration from a crucifix in the church of San Ranierino in Pisa (now Pisa, Museo Nazionale di San Matteo, inv. no. 2325) “amplifying its precious chromatic effect” (Medica 2019, p.39) to achieve a result of such high quality that Caleca and Burresi were prompted to attribute the Faenza cross to the hand of Giunta himself (Burresi, Caleca 2005, pp. 74-75).

The Faenza cross has probably lost its version of the crowning disc with a half-figure depiction of Christ blessing that can still be seen on Giunta’s cross in Pisa and on another cross by the Master of the Franceiscan Crucifixes in the Muzzarelli Chapel in San Francesco in Bologna. The side panels, reflecting traditional iconography, have the grieving images of the Virgin and of St. John the Evangelist, which have very often been compared with those adorning a Crucifixion in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (inv. no. 28.886), leading scholars to attribute also the latter to the same Master 1 .

Considering the painter’s close association with the Franciscan order and the inclusion of an image of St. Francis on the predella, the Faenza cross is highly likely to have come from the Compagnia di Santa Croce, a confraternity attached to the church of San Francesco in Faenza (Tambini 2006, p.74). Lollini (2023, p.53), however, points out that its small size suggests that it is more likely to have come from a smaller architectural complex, or that it should be seen as a cross designed for an altar, for hanging on a wall or for decorating a beam in a chapel.

Anna Tambini has suggested that c. 1530 the Franciscans may have given it to the Poor Clares in Santa Chiara together with another icon depicting the Conception. Following the dissolution of the religious institutions in 1866, the cross was moved to the city’s Ospedale Civile, whence it finally entered the Pinacoteca Comunale in 1878 (Tambini 2006, p. 74), although there is no mention of it in the first catalogue of the collection published in 1881.

If we accept the hypothesis that the cross came from the church of San Francesco in Faenza founded in 1271, then we can plausibly argue that it must have been painted at more or less the same date (Tambini 2006, p. 81). Thus it would be a product of the latter part of the Master’s career, which might well explain why it is of superior quality to its counterpart in the Pinacoteca di Bologna 2 , confirming the opinion that the artist was “one of the most important painters working in central Italy in the 13th century” (Tartuferi 2015b, p. 190).

M. Burresi, A. Caleca, Pittura a Pisa da Giunta a Giotto, in Cimabue a Pisa: la pittura pisana del Duecento da Giunta a Giotto, exhibition catalogue (Pisa, Museo Nazionale di San Matteo, 25 March – 25 June 2005), ed. M. Burresi, A. Caleca, Pisa 2005, pp. 74-75

F. Lollini, Ai tempi di Umiltà (circa 1230-1320), in Il Polittico della Beata Umiltà di Pietro Lorenzetti, l’arte di raccontare una santa, ed. R. Bartoli, D. Parenti, Livorno 2023, pp. 53-67

M. Medica, “Crux de medio ecclesiale”. Croci scolpite e croci dipinte a Bologna nel Duecento, in Imago splendida. Capolavori di scultura lignea a Bologna dal Romanico al Duecento, exhibition catalogue (Bologna, Museo Civico Medievale, 23 November 2019 – 8 March 2020), ed. M. Medica and L. Mor, Milan 2019, pp. 35-51

E. Sandberg Vavalà, La croce dipinta italiana e l’iconografia della Passione, Verona 1929, p. 841-844

A. Tambini, Storia delle arti figurative a Faenza. 1. Le origini, Faenza 2006, pp. 74-88

A. Tartuferi, I pittori di Francesco, in L’Arte di Francesco. Capolavori d’Arte italiana e terre d’Asia dal XIII al XV secolo, exhibition catalogue (Florence, Galleria dell’Accademia, 31 March – 11 October 2015) ed. A. Tartuferi, F. D’Arelli, Prato 2015, pp. 145-159

A. Tartuferi, in L’Arte di Francesco. Capolavori d’Arte italiana e terre d’Asia dal XIII al XV secolo, exhibition catalogue (Florence, Galleria dell’Accademia, 31 March – 11 October 2015), ed. A. Tartuferi, F. D’Arelli, Prato 2015, pp. 190-191 entry no. 11

A. Tartuferi, in Gubbio al tempo di Giotto. Tesori d’Arte nella terra di Oderisi (exhibition catalogue), ed. G. Benazzi, Perugia 2018, p. 158-159 entry no. 6

G. Vannucchi, in Duecento. Forme e colori del Medioevo a Bologna, exhibition catalogue (Bologna Museo Civico Archeologico 15 April – 16 July 2000) ed. M. Medica, S. Tumidei, Bologna 2000, pp. 186-189, entry no. 47

E. Zappasodi, in Dal visibile all’indicibile. Crocifissi ed esperienza mistica in Angela da Foligno, ed. M. Bassetti, B. Toscano, Spoleto 2012, pp. 137-146 entry no. 3

E. Zappasodi, in Il Maestro di San Francesco e lo stil novo del Duecento umbro, exhibition catalogue (Perugia, galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria, 10 marzo-9 giugno 2024) ed. A. De Marchi, V. Picchiatelli, E. Zappasodi, Cinisello Balsamo 2024, pp. 32, 33, 34, 287

The images are the property of the Pinacoteca Comunale di Faenza. For the use of the images, please write to

written by
Piero Offidani
  1. Medica 2019, p.39; Vannucchi 2000, pp.186-189; Tambini 2006, p. 80[]
  2. inv. no. 10038; Zappasodi 2012, p. 146[]