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Male Members of a Confraternity
Italian, Milanese
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Nine men kneel in prayer, heads bare, hats in hands. Behind them stands a saint – we can only see his hand – wearing a brown garment (perhaps the habit worn by members of a religious order). It is possibly Saint Francis, who founded the Franciscan Order, presenting the men to the object of their devotion.

These are the male members of a confraternity (a quasi-religious brotherhood) and the painting once formed part of the banner which the confraternity carried in processions. Another fragment, also in the National Gallery’s collection, shows the female members.

We don't know who the artist was, but the style of dress worn in both fragments was fashionable in about 1500. They were perhaps members of the confraternity of the Immaculate Conception, founded in Milan in 1475 under the oversight of the Franciscans.

Key facts
Artist Italian, Milanese
Full title Male Members of a Confraternity
Group Fragments of a Confraternity Banner
Date made about 1500
Medium and support Oil on silk or linen, mounted on wood
Dimensions 64.5 x 41.9 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1867
Inventory number NG779
Location in Gallery Gallery A: Paintings 1250-1600
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Fragments of a Confraternity Banner

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Medieval and Renaissance painters worked on a wide variety of objects, not just pictures intended to be hung on walls. Here we have a rare survival of an important type of artwork from this time: a painted banner.

Banners like this were designed to be seen from a distance. They were usually around 2.5 metres high, and hung from a tall wooden cross which would be carried at the head of public processions.

Made in Milan in around 1500, the banner from which these came was possibly associated with the important confraternity of the Immaculate Conception (the belief that the Virgin Mary was conceived without sin). This was set up in Milan under the sponsorship of the Franciscan Order. Behind the group of kneeling men we can see part of a figure of a saint, apparently dressed in brown robes – perhaps Saint Francis.

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