Niccolo da Foligno (Italian, Umbrian, , ca. 1430–1502),
tempera on panel, 32 ¼ x 16 ¾ in.; 81.9 x 42.5 cm
Museum purchase, 1945.118
Dating to the early Renaissance, this altarpiece displays some older traits: the decorative gold background in place of a realistic landscape, and relatively hard contours around the figures. Iconographically traditional, the image contains common symbolic elements, such as the three mourners, Mary (in a blue mantle), John, and Mary Magdalene (with long hair), and angels catching Christ’s blood. At the top of the cross, a pelican tears open its breast to feed four young, reflecting the ancient belief that pelicans resuscitated dead offspring with their own blood. That legend came to symbolize Christ, whose blood gives life to his followers.