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Ugolino di Nerio, Isaiah

Key facts
Full title Isaiah
Artist Ugolino di Nerio
Artist dates documented 1317-27; died possibly 1329
Series The Santa Croce Altarpiece
Date made possibly 1325-8
Medium and support Egg tempera on poplar
Dimensions 45.8 × 31.5 cm
Acquisition credit Presented by Henry Wagner, 1918
Inventory number NG3376
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
Ugolino di Nerio

This panel – a pinnacle panel – comes from the uppermost part of a large multi-panelled altarpiece painted for the church of Santa Croce, Florence. There were originally six of these, and four survive. Two others are in our collection (they show King David and Moses), as well as panels from other tiers.

It shows the prophet Isaiah. His face and beard are still in good condition but much of the panel has been damaged, including a large part of the Latin inscription on the scroll he carries. Only the last part of the word nomen (‘name’) is visible now. This suggests that the inscription is probably taken from Isaiah 7:14: ‘Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.’

The verse was interpreted by Christians to refer to the conception of Christ. This image was intended to remind viewers that Christ’s birth had been foretold in the Old Testament and that it was part of God’s divine plan.

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The Santa Croce Altarpiece


These panels were once part of a large altarpiece which adorned the high altar of the church of Santa Croce in Florence. It focused on the Passion of Christ (his torture and crucifixion) and the Resurrection – an appropriate theme, as the church was dedicated to the Holy Cross.

Drawings made in the late eighteenth century show how it was arranged originally. There were four tiers of images: the main tier had a central image of the Virgin and Child flanked by images of the saints within arches, which were decorated with angels (there are two sets of these in the National Gallery’s collection).

Above was a row of saints framed in pairs; we hold two pairs. The uppermost tier consisted of six pinnacle panels, three on either side of a central image which probably showed the Crucifixion, itself topped by an image of Christ making a blessing gesture. The predella (the lowest layer) consisted of seven scenes showing Christ’s suffering and death; we have four of these.