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Two Panels from a Predella

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The Institution of the Eucharist and The Israelites gathering Manna were once part of a predella – a row of scenes along the base of an altarpiece – made for the church of San Domenico in Ferrara. The main panel showed Christ after his death, lying on his grieving mother’s lap, surrounded by mourners. Two of these figures are portraits of the Duke and Duchess of Ferrara. The altarpiece may have been made to commemorate the death of the Duchess, who had a particular interest in the Corpus Christi (‘body of Christ’), especially its celebration at the Eucharist. The predella probably concealed a container for the bread of the Eucharist, disguised by the image of the Last Supper, which also functioned as the container’s door. The story of the Israelites gathering manna – a heavenly ‘bread’ that fed them during their travels in the wilderness before reaching Israel – was often interpreted as a forerunner of the ‘heavenly bread’ of Christ’s body.

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