Polyptych with Scenes from the Life of Christ, the Life of the Virgin, and Saints

Download image: 
Workshop of Ferrer Bassa
active 14th century
Spain, ca. 1345-1350.
Tempera on panel.
22 1/2 x 41 1/2 inches (570 x 1050 mm)
Purchased by Pierpont Morgan, 1907.

On four panels.
An excellent example of Gothic painting from Catalonia, this polyptych has been recently attributed to the workshop of Ferrer Bassa. It may have been executed by Bassa's son Arnau based on Ferrer's design. Evocative of contemporary Italian painting, the four panels of this altarpiece depict scenes from the life of the Virgin (at the top), the Passion of Christ (in the center row), and saints (at the bottom). The lunettes above depict the instruments of the Passion, the mourning Virgin, Christ as the Man of Sorrows (one of the earliest examples in Spanish painting), and the mourning St. John.
The panels are surmounted by lunettes illustrating the following: (1) the Instruments of the Passion "Arma Christi", (2) the Mourning Virgin, (3) the Man of Sorrows "Imago Pietatis" (one of the earliest examples of this image in Spanish painting; inscribed PIETAS CRI [i.e. Chrisit]), (4) St. John Mourning.
Horizontally, proceeding from left to right, and top to bottom, the scenes depict: In the top row, scenes primarily devoted to the Virgin (Annunciation; Adoration of Shepherds; Adoration of Magi; Christ Appearing to the Virgin after the Resurrection; Ascension; Pentecost; Death of the Virgin; Harrowing of Hell (Christ's Descent into Limbo?)), followed by seven scenes from the Passion of Christ (Betrayal; Christ before Pilate; Carrying of the Cross; the Virgin offering Her veil as a loincloth for the Crucified Christ and Stephaton offering the Vinegar to Christ; the Blindess of Longinus cured by the Blood from Christ's Side; Descent from the Cross; Entombment). The last scene in this row is a Last Judgement, with the Blessed wearing white habits (perhaps Cistercians) and the Damned black ones (Benedectines?).
In the bottom row are standing figures of twelve saints, some of whom are grouped in pairs (St. Michael; St. John the Baptist; St. Peter (with rather strange-looking key) and St. Paul; St. John the Evangelist? (Male saint with flower (lily?)); St. Nicholas? [inscribed ..C..O..]; St. Dominic and St. Francis; St. Augustine? (bishop saint; inscribed..S..E..T..N..S.. (?)) St. Magdalene? (female saint with chain [inscribed ..S.M..HO..]; Female martyr with palm (St. Thecla?) and St. Catherine of Alexandria.

Charles V. collection (?; possibly no. 2515 in inventory); R. Langton Douglas, 1904; purchased from Imbert by Pierpont Morgan, April 1907.