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Ugolino di Nerio, 'Moses', possibly 1325-8

Key facts
Full title Moses
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 wood
Dimensions 55 × 31.4 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1983
Inventory number NG6484
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
Ugolino di Nerio

This panel comes from the uppermost part of a large altarpiece painted for the high altar of the church of Santa Croce, Florence. There are two others in our collection, showing the prophet Isaiah and King David; all three figures carry scrolls with Latin inscriptions.

This one shows Moses who, according to the Old Testament book of Exodus, was chosen by God to lead the Israelites out of captivity in Egypt. The scroll he holds is inscribed with words adapted from the book of Exodus: ‘I saw that the bush was burning and was not consumed’ (Exodus 3: 2). The burning bush, through which God spoke to Moses, later came to be associated with the Virgin Mary’s everlasting virginity.

The inscription, which refers to the divine nature of Christ’s conception, is in keeping with those on the scrolls held by David and Isaiah, which also feature prophecies about Christ’s birth.

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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.