Posted on August 18, 2012
SCRC member William R. Levin, Professor Emeritus of Art History at Centre College, has published “Il Mantello della virtù in un affresco della Misericordia: Guida pratica di filantropia” in the Italian journal San Sebastiano, anno 64, no. 252 (July-September 2012), pp. 34-36.
(Links to the journal and article can be found after the abstract.)
While hardly unfamiliar to scholars of late-medieval Italian art, the frescoed Allegory of Mercy in Florence’s Museo del Bigallo, painted for the Confraternity of Santa Maria della Misericordia in 1342, is an often overlooked masterpiece of didactic art. Prominently displayed on the mantle of the principal figure in the painting—usually considered to be the Virgin Mary, protectress of this important charitable foundation, but identified by the author as a personification of the virtue Mercy—are a series of roundels containing brief biblical citations, most of them featuring miniature narrative scenes that illustrate the accompanying texts. All but two of the historiated roundels derive from the famous passage in Matthew 25, in which Christ names six beneficent actions that will earn His followers their places in Heaven. Among the archival documents recording the early history and good works of the Misericordia are numerous references to the very actions mandated by Christ, suggesting that the Allegory of Mercy was more than a general commentary on the meaning of neighborly love, but that in a quite specific way it served as a visual guidebook for the company members in fulfilling their philanthropic obligations.