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The Man of Sorrows
Master of the Borgo Crucifix (Master of the Franciscan Crucifixes)
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In 1999 this panel was reunited with its pair, an image of the Virgin and Child. Together they formed a diptych, a painting made of two panels joined with a hinge.

Christ is shown on the Cross, just after his death – a type of image called the Man of Sorrows. Its origins lie in Byzantine painting (the art of the Eastern Christian empire) but it became popular in the west in the thirteenth century. The Cross has been painted with three different shades of brown, representing the three trees from which it was thought to be made: fir, palm and cypress, interpreted as symbolising the Trinity (God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost).

There were many Franciscan friaries in the eastern Mediterranean during this period, so the religious order was familiar with Byzantine imagery. The Man of Sorrows was popular with the Franciscans, as they were particularly devoted to the contemplation of Christ’s suffering.

Key facts
Artist Master of the Borgo Crucifix (Master of the Franciscan Crucifixes)
Artist dates active about 1250 - 1269
Full title The Man of Sorrows
Group Umbrian Diptych
Date made about 1255-60
Medium and support Egg tempera on poplar
Dimensions 32.3 x 23 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1999
Inventory number NG6573
Location in Gallery Room 51
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Umbrian Diptych

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These panels once formed the left and right wing of a diptych, a painting made up of two parts joined by a central hinge. Holes on the left edge of the panel depicting the dead Christ match up with those at the right edge of the panel with the Virgin and Child; these once held hinges. Both panels have the same dimensions and the backgrounds are decorated with the same patterns and markings. The reverses are both painted to imitate red porphyry, a type of stone.

The images belong to the Byzantine (Eastern Christian) tradition. The diptych may have been made for a Franciscan friar – a member of the religious order which followed the teachings of Saint Francis and placed particular emphasis in their prayer upon Christ’s suffering. The Order’s presence in the eastern Mediterranean after the Fourth Crusade of 1204 (one of a series of medieval religious wars) meant that they would have been familiar with Byzantine imagery.

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