Orsini Polyptich


Simone Martini
Siena 1284 - Avignon 1344
oil on panel
24 x 15 cm
Inventory number 257-260

Originally, these four scenes were part of a polyptych. The work, by Italian painter Simone Martini, was an evocation of two key passages from the New Testament. Mary and the angel Gabriel, who were depicted on the reverse sides, represent the Annunciation, the announcement to Mary of the Incarnation. Calvary and the Descent from the Cross thematise the death of Christ.
In the left of Calvary, the Roman soldier Longinus plants his spear into the side of the crucified Christ. Only when the blood from the wound drips into his eyes does Longinus recognise Christ as the Son of God. As does the Roman centurion to the right, who points at Christ and says: "Truly this was the Son of God" (Matthew 27: 54). Quite striking are the highly emotive representations of Mary Magdalene at the foot of the cross and the women on the left who are consoling Mary. The emphasis is on physical, visible suffering rather than on psychological pain. A similar expressiveness characterises the witnesses to the Descent from the Cross.

Portable altarpiece

Simone Martini painted these small panels as parts of a portable altarpiece. The Carrying of the Cross and The Entombment, which are in the collection of respectively the Louvre in Paris and Staatliche Museen in Berlin, are thought also to have belonged to this private devotional altar. It was most probably commissioned by Cardinal Napoleone Orsini, who appears as a kneeling figure in one of the four scenes.

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