The central representation groups together several symbols and figures in a symmetrical composition.
In general it falls within the iconography defined as "Living Cross" or "Brachial Cross".
This iconography has its origins in those economic, political and religious reasons that caused already in the Roman age a widespread
hostile attitude towards Jewish communities.
The barbaric states and the Eastern Empire openly show this hostility that has been pushed to the point of capital punishment.
The reasons for this form of intolerance lie above all in the conviction that that people cannot participate at all in the great effort of
purification and salvation that is the greatest concern of medieval Christianity.
The Jews who crucified Christ can only be the born enemies of Christians.
Medieval art is also affected by this spirit of repression, and introduces into the representations of the Life and Passion of Christ,
the scorpion or goat symbol.
This speech was necessary to frame the iconography of the Brachial Cross of S. Croce, in that anti-Zionist mentality, so violent
again in the xv and the following century.
Of this form of cross you can have different representations, with many variations, even in the composition and number of figures.
The fresco of S. Croce, compared with those cited by Reau and with the existing one in S. Petronio in Bologna presents a marked singularity:
the number of subjects and symbols grouped in the same scene, while observing some common criteria of representation,
is much greater in S. Croce.
One of the common iconographic elements is the hand shape extension of the four arms of the cross.
The upper arm equipped with a large key opens the golden door of a large turreted castle: Paradise or heavenly city.
From the crenellated walls faces the Eternal Father, an old man with a flowing white beard, surrounded by a crowd of angels.
An inscription, now illegible, departs from the Father towards the son.
To the left of the castle, above an elegant inlaid wooden bench, the Virgin of the Annunciation kneels, to the right the
archangel Gabriel holds out the scroll with the inscription: Ave gratia piena, dominus tecum.
The figure of the crucified Christ is realized with remarkable mastery both in the anatomical drawing and in the strokes
of the face.
The right arm of the cross (left for the viewer) extends into a hand that places a crown on the head of a figure
of woman in religious habit, representing the Church.
It holds with the right arm a model church (of Romanesque style that could reproduce the ancient church of S. Francesco).
and with the left hand holds the white cross red banner.
At his feet are represented the symbols of the Evangelists: the ox, the angel, the eagle and the lion.
The scroll that stands on the head of the Church bears the inscription:
[s]anguine doctata est sponsa [et] vocata:
[et] crucem ascendit qui michi [bra]ch[i]a pandit.
Behind the church there is the Madonna who points out with the index finger of her left hand a small Crucifix placed at the top of a tree,
to which a snake is attached; in her open right hand she shows a pome.
The scroll on his head bears the inscription:
[R]esero nunc etera que clauserat vobis eva
per filium meum salvabo quenlibet reum.
The left arm of the cross (right for the observer) extends into a hand that sinks, almost to the hilt, a sword in the head of a crowned woman,
which represents the Synagogue, as can still be read in the white inscription on a dark background.
She rides a headless goat and holds with her right a red banner striped with white, and with her left she holds the head of the goat,
equipped with long horns.
Interesting is the shape of the spatula nose that recalls the horses of master Antonio alla Montata.
In the white strip are marked some strange symbols similar to those we will find in the coins of the shield on the right wall.
The cartouche bears the inscription:
[I]rcorum sanguis me decepit velut anguis
[e]go sum cechata a regno dei separata.
Behind the Synagogue is depicted Eve in the act of catching with her right hand the apple that holds with her mouth a snake wrapped
in the trunk of a tree; with her left hand she holds a skull.
The scroll on his head bears the inscription:
[Pe]r es [mun]danum destruxi genus humanum
vos morieminy quia clausi ianua celi.
The symbol of the green Cross or Tree of Life, indicated by the Virgin is the antithesis of the Tree of Good and Evil that stands before Eve.
The skull she holds in her hand is a symbol of death and original sin.
Both the small Crucifix and the apple that shows the Virgin are the symbol of salvation and redemption from death.
and original sin, symbolized by the apple and the skull of Eve.
The removal of the baroque altar during the course of the restoration confirmed the hypothesis put forward by Raineri in 1966 .
of the continuation of the fourth arm of the cross fixed in the ground, in the form of a hand with a hammer
He would squeal the door of limbo to free the righteous of the Old Testament.
There remain traces of a white tunic that could be that of the Risen Christ.
This painting dense with symbols represents a remarkable example of didactic art, where the story is told through images,
supported and explained by the inscriptions, refers to the oldest sources of Christian doctrine and that medieval spirit of hostility towards the Jewish people.
The antithesis of good and evil, of life and death, natural and spiritual, are highlighted and made clear by the figures
of Our Lady and Eve, of the Trees of Life and Good and Evil, of the Church and the Synagogue, which in representations
of the Last Judgment symbolize the elect and the reprobates, and in the Crucifixion they have the same antithetical role as the sun and the moon.
All these figures are arranged in symmetrical dualism around the central figure of Christ, crucified
for the redemption of man.
Eve with her sin closed the doors of Paradise, causing the death of flesh and soul; the sacrifice of Christ,
which replaces the sacrifice of the goat of the ancient religion, redeems humanity from sin and restores to it the hope of salvation,
mediating Our Lady and the Church the bride of Christ.
Raineri reports from the text of the Reau a list of similar iconographies:
- Strasbourg Cathedral tympanum (13th century)
- Miniature of "Hortus Deliciarum" (XII century)
- Some anonymous paintings of the Museum of Cluny, in Paris, at the Museum of Beaume, at the Art Gallery of Ferrara (attributed to Garofalo)
- Sculpted St. Martin's Gable of Landshut (1432)
- Fresco in Brunek in Tyrol
- Painting by Hans Fries in Fribourg, Switzerland
- Prints on wood and Russian fresco of the xvii century in the church of St. John the Baptist in Jaroslav
- Then remains that of S. Petronio in Bologna which we have already talked about.
At the sides of the central scene are represented two religious: the one on the right in an act of prayer in front of the Cross.
with an open book leaning against a small altar.
In the book you read: Adoramus te ariste et benedicimus tibi quia per sanctam crucem [et mortem] tuam redemisti mundum: Beginning of the text of the Via Crucis.
Above his head without a halo an angel holds the red cardinal's hat.
The artist and the commissioners (and in this case the Dominicans' hypothesis is confirmed) wanted to offer a devout homage
to S. Bonaventura, "Doctor seraphicus", who in 1254 together with S. Tommaso, supported with his writings the reasons
of the Franciscans (remembered with the devotion of the Stations of the Cross and with the same St. Bonaventure, official biographer
of St. Francis with his "Legenda nova") and the Dominicans against the claims of the rector William of St. Love,
which called for the exclusion of religious from teaching in the Parisian studio.
The cardinal's hat recalls his elevation to purple in 1273 by Pope Gregory X, blessed.
The representation of St. Bonaventure without a halo justifies the supposed date for the frescoes, around 1475,
since the sanctification took place in 1482 by Pope Sixtus IV.
The religious man on the left is Pope St. Gregory the Great, kneeling before the altar in the act of celebrating Mass.
On his head an angel holds the pontifical triune.
The iconography belongs to the representations of the so-called Mass of St. Gregory or Vision of St. Gregory.
It is said that during the celebration of Mass, Christ appeared to the Holy Pope, coming out with his bust from the tomb, with his arms outstretched to show the wounds.
Behind him appears the Cross with all the symbols of the Passion.
This iconography of Christ is called "Christ of piety".
The representation of the Vision of St. Gregory therefore explains the great fresco on the right wall and the great diffusion of this iconography
that we find in all medieval art, and in particular in the paintings of our regions.
The Christ of mercy, which we often find in small panels on the walls of the altar or as the Montata
in the triangular cusps of the polyptychs, in S. Croce it assumes the dimensions of a great representation
of the Passion in symbolic form.