The painted cross of san Salvatore

The painted cross of san Salvatore

14:26 28 October in Insights

sansalvatoreAmong the oldest works kept in the Museum is a small painting representing a Holy Deacon and a Saint, may be Saint Barbara, owned by the Florentine Galleries, which bought it in 1829. In storage with the label saying “Russian-Byzantine School”, it was first given on loan to the Accademia Etrusca in Cortona and then to the Museum of Fucecchio when it was inaugurated, as it is part of a cross painted for the Church of San Salvatore in Fucecchio where it had been until 1780. Important evidence of the cross’ successive peregrinations (Pisa Cathedral and then the Dal Pozzo Chapel in the town’s Monumental Cemetery) and of its dismemberment are some 19th century engravings that have allowed art historians to trace its history.

Thanks to the engraving published in the Pisa Antiperistasi by the historian Ranieri Tempesti, well-known scholars (Garrison, Coor Achenbach), like real investigators, succeeded in finding the cross in the storerooms of the Pisa Museum, from which also the side panel displayed in Fucecchio had come, while another side panel representing Two Saints (Tartuferi 1990) would later be found in an Italian private collection. The cross was in poor condition, lacking its cyma and sides; the dismemberment of the cross must have taken place before 1866, as shown in a late lithograph by the German artist Ramboux executed during one of his stays in Italy (between 1817 and 1824 or between 1835 and 1842; cp. Ramboux, Cologne, 1866). On the back of the cross there was an apocryphal inscription that attributed its paternity to Giunta Pisano («IUNCTA.FEC.PIS.MCCXXXVIII »), while another inscription on the footstool, dating it to 1238, recalls its 1633 and 1743 restorations («FU FATTA QUESTA IMMAGINE / L.a 1238 e REST.TA L.a 1633 EN L.a. o 1743»).

The 1981 restoration (Caleca 1981) discovered the original inscription under the apocryphal one with the name of the artist: «BERLINGERIUS VULTERRANUS ME PINXIT». The recovery of a signed work is always an important event, especially for a period like the 13th century, greatly lacking in documented works.

The cross is therefore the work of Berlinghiero who defines himself in the inscription as «Vulterranus», suggesting his training in the native Volterra, one of the most hellenized areas in 13th century Tuscany. As regards the date, if the year 1238 of the apocryphal inscription cannot be confirmed – since Berlinghiero died in 1236 – the work might have been carried out in his last working years, without excluding its being finished by his workshop, even if some scholars (Boskovits), not having succeeded in reading the inscription, think that it is a work from the 1260’s denying its attribution to Berlinghiero.

The painted cross of the Abbey of San Salvatore enables us to understand Berlinghiero’s stylistic evolution that, even drawing on Byzantine typologies, uses wide background color according to the Roman-Umbrian tradition, with the prevalence of tight, well-balanced rhythms of western extraction, that draw a clear line between his works and the 12th century crosses of Lucca. In this cross, characterized by a new linear and chromatic softness, Berlinghiero meditates on Giunta’s parallel experience in Pisa who had managed to enrich the preceding pictorial traditions with the new content of Franciscan spirituality. Francis of Assisi’s meditation on Christ’s humanity affected Berlinghiero’s firm and dogmatic certainties.

Rosanna Caterina Proto Pisani

in, Museo di Fucecchio. Guida alla visita del museo e alla scoperta del territorio, a cura di Rosanna Caterina Proto Pisani, Polistampa 2006