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Il Maestro della Croce

We went to the Uffizi Gallery, waited out in the queue for three hours with all the other foreigners, some from France, some from Mexico, some from Romania. The gallery houses the largest number of ‘masterworks’, in the sense of the old Renaissance, that is Italian, that I’ve seen. The most striking piece — either because of the circumstance of its creator, or because of its primacy in the time I saw it — was the crucifix done by the unknown Master of the Cross, n. 424.

The work turned up in the Uffizi collection in 1888; it’s whereabouts before then, and its point of origin are not known. Nor the artist who created it; he was given the name ‘Il Maestro della Croce’. The piece is late medieval, roughly contemporaneous to Cimabue I believe, but the Christ figure is executed in a highly expressive manner. Lovely, really. If I could find a link to a photo on the net, I’d share.

What struck me about it, as I walked from painting to painting, altarpiece to altarpiece, seeing myself reflected next to all the other viewers — staring hungrily or with cameras — on the protective glass that stood in front of the more ‘priceless’ works, was the crucifix relationship to posterity. Its author had long since passed away; the only living part of him, his only memory is this hunk of wood and gilding hung on the wall of a museum in tourist town Italy.

And I thought instantly of the nameless artisans who spent years crafting the stained glass windows of the Duomo in Milan — the most beautiful Cathedral I’ve seen so far, I think — who are not even graced by History with monikers deriving from their works. Surely, they spent much of their proverbial life’s blood in the creation of these things, which we still have. Yet their authors are long dead, long gone. Those authors are irrelevant now except for the fact that they contributed to this or that piece of art, the unknowable trivialities of their lives washed away with by the river time.

And never mind the fact that the institution to which these artists dedicated their lives staged some rather foul acts for posterity as well.

Categories: Postcards.


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