The Crucifixion Altarpiece: Pilate Washing his Hands (Front Left Wing)

WAG 1225


The Crucifixion Altarpiece is a triptych formed of three painted panels, the two side wings belonging to the Walker Art Gallery and the central painting to the National Gallery, London. The entire triptych is presently on display in the Walker. Both wings have painted reverses which would be folded closed in front of the central panel to show a family witnessing the 'Mass of St Gregory'. The wings were separated from the centre panel in the early 19th-century before or during their export to Britain. Until 1963 the paintings on the backs of the wings were hidden under black paint and only rediscovered after cleaning and conservation. The front of the left hand panel, shows the Roman governor of Jerusalem Pontius Pilate symbolically 'washing his hands of Christ' and handing him over to the religious authorities. It may include a self-portrait of the artist, who could be the man, wearing a black hat, and looking out at us over Pilate's shoulder . This triptych was originally held in the parish church of St Columba in Cologne and was painted for the rich merchant and three-times mayor of Cologne, Hermann Rinck. As a child, Christ abandoned his parents during a visit to the Temple in Jerusalem and stayed behind to teach among the scholars there. His mother's words on finding him again are written in Latin on the book she holds: 'Son, why have you dealt with us like this?' The picture is signed and dated in Latin along the bottom edge of the frame: 'Simone of Siena painted me in the year of Our Lord 1342'. Simone was among the greatest artists of 14th-century Italy. This work, however, was painted in Avignon in France, where the papal court was in exile from Rome. This lavish picture was presumably commissioned for private devotion by a high ranking patron, possibly the pope himself. The jewel-like colours, the use of richly patterned gold and the graceful lines of the figures are characteristic of the Gothic art of France as well as Italy. It is typical of Simone that these decorative qualities do not detract from the solemn emotional drama of the scene which is conveyed through gesture, pose and facial expression. This is one of the artworks presented by the Liverpool Royal Institution. Liverpool’s economic development grew directly from Britain’s involvement with transatlantic slavery: the kidnapping, enslavement and forced migration of people from West Africa to the Americas and many to the Caribbean. Many members of the Royal Institution made their fortunes directly through the trade or indirectly through the wider economy. This wealth was largely how they were able to bring rare art and treasures, such as this, to the city.