Egg tempera and gilding on softwood panel (likely poplar), depicting the 'Dream of the Virgin', painted by Simone dei Crocifissi.
This painting is thought to have been adapted from the detached cimasa (the uppermost portion) of a dismantled altarpiece.
The redemptive capacity of the Virgin is the pivotal message around which the circular, non-sequential narrative of the Society’s panel revolves. Mary is shown lying on her side on a bed. Seated at the foot of the bed is a second woman, her veiled head bowed over the book she is holding in her lap. The figure of the crucified Christ appears to be supported on the shaft of a vine tree rising from Mary’s body. The iconography culminates in a highly original treatment of the Death of the Virgin, touching on several well-established arboreal themes in medieval Christianity, including the Tree of Jesse, the Crucifixion and the Tree of Life.
The composition on the panel is circumscribed by four groups of buildings. The two flanking Christ hover in the air above the Virgin’s bed, contributing to the dream-like quality of the scene. They are terra cotta in colour, perhaps indicating brick masonry, while the lower two at the bottom of the picture are grey, presumably representing stone. At the bottom of the scene Adam, half-clothed and bearded, followed by the naked figure of Eve, emerges from the cave of Hades, whose gates have been forced to the ground. Adam’s emergence from a rock tomb on the Society’s panel evokes the tradition that he was buried on Golgotha on the spot where Christ #was to be crucified. Adam’s presence in the scene reinforces the panel’s central message of human salvation through Christ’s Incarnation, and affirms the message of the Resurrection.
A disembodied hand descends from a cloud beneath the Virgin’s body, reaching down like the roots of the vine above, to grasp Adam’s arm. This emphasises Mary’s role as intercessor and is an early example of a motif that anticipates the curious imagery of the Living Cross that developed across northern and central Europe from around 1400 wherein each of the cross-arms terminates in a hand, representing divine agency.
Simone dei Crocefissi (c1335–c1399) was a prolific artist – some seventy of his works survive – and the leading figure in Bolognese painting from 1359 until his death, around 1399.