Christ’s disciples were gathered together 50 days after his death when, according to the Bible, a strong wind began to blow. Flames like ‘tongues of fire’ appeared on their heads and they were filled with the Holy Ghost (Acts 2: 1–4). This event, called Pentecost, was when the disciples were given the divine authority to preach about Christ and his message.
Here, the Holy Ghost is represented as a tiny white dove above the Virgin Mary’s head and we can see the double-tongued flames on the disciples' heads. It is very likely that it was one of a series of scenes that made up a larger work, probably a triptych (a picture made up of three panels). In the church of San Giovanni Battista in Alba there is a picture of the Virgin and Child signed by Barnaba di Modena and dated 1377. It may have been the central panel of this triptych.
Christ’s disciples were gathered together to celebrate the Jewish Feast of Weeks when, according to the Bible, a strong wind began to blow and flames like ‘tongues of fire’ appeared on their heads. The disciples were filled with the Holy Ghost and began to speak miraculously in a number of languages (Acts 2: 1–4). This moment, known as Pentecost, was when the disciples were given the divine authority – through receiving the Holy Ghost – to go out to preach about Christ and his message. Their ability to speak a number of different languages was therefore important.
Here, the Virgin Mary presides over the gathering. Her robe is covered in gold striations – lines that make it look as though she is bathed in divine light. The artist often used this technique, which was popular with artists of the earlier fourteenth century, to make holy figures stand out (look at his scenes of the coronation of the Virgin and image of the Trinity).
The Holy Ghost is represented as a tiny white dove above the Virgin’s head; it has miraculously flown through the beamed ceiling and is surrounded by holy light, represented as a red semi-circle. The Virgin and disciples look towards it and clasp their hands in prayer. On their heads are the double-tongued flames described in the biblical account.
A dowel (wooden peg) on the reverse of this panel shows that it was once connected to another picture; it is very likely that it was one of a series of scenes that made up a larger work. Two other pictures of similar dimensions have been connected with it: an image of the Ascension (Pinacoteca Capitolina, Rome) and a scene of the Nativity (Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan). It is possible that these pictures belonged to a triptych which consisted of two rows of scenes framing a central image of the Virgin and Child. In the church of San Giovanni Battista in Alba there is a picture of the Virgin and Child signed by Barnaba di Modena and dated 1377 – it might have been the central panel of this triptych.
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