The five paintings, depicting the Kiss of Judas, the Flagellation, the Crucifixion, the Deposition and the Resurrection, belonged originally to an altarpiece, since deconstructed, illustrating the Stories of the Passion of Christ. We do not know the church for which they were originally conceived. The earliest information for this work dates back to 1867, the year in which they are documented in the Sacred Museum of the Vatican Apostolic Library. By then, the dossal (frontal section of the altar) had already lost its antique frame. Its height could have varied between 40 and 45 cm, given the different elements distributed in scale towards the center. The scenes were separated by painted columns, suggested by the presence of the remaining semi-columns on the sides of each compartment.
The dossal bears great witness to monastic spirituality produced by the hand of an unknown painter, conventionally called the Master of the Cini Diptych as well as Master of the Poldi-Pezzoli Diptych, named after the collection or the museum containing his works. The current name “Master of the Trevi Crucifix” is derived from another of his works: a large painted sculptural crucifix preserved in the Church of San Francesco in Trevi, near Spoleto.
Having been steeped in the innovative art of Giotto in the workshops of Assisi, the painter was active in Umbria perhaps already at the end of the thirteenth century and later in the second quarter of the fourteenth century. His style is distinguished by great refinement and the incorporation of Gothic motifs with the local figurative language of the culture of the Alps.
The focal point of the composition is the scene of the Crucifixion, in which the painter represents only the essential figures: Christ, Mary, John, two angels, and the figure of a friar kneeling at the foot of the cross, a mute and timeless witness of the drama.
Christ is crucified with three nails on a cross in the shape of a “T.” His head is reclined, his eyes closed, and according to the typology of Christus Patiens, he has already passed away. Blood flows abundantly from the wounds on his forehead, from the sores of his hands and feet and from the wound in his side. The cross is planted on a small mountain, Calvary or Golgotha, which contains a cave with a skull. According to tradition it is that of Adam, the first sinner. Over the mountain flows the redemptive blood of Christ, the promise of salvation for all believers. The trauma of the Virgin’s sorrow is made visible by the dissonance between the dark mantle that envelops her and her pale face and hands that open in a gesture of abandonment. The faithful who gathered in prayer before the altar dossal were so emotionally involved in the aesthetic experience of the work that they physically scarred the figures of the wicked who were against Christ; this is evident in the first two scenes where the faces of Judas, the soldiers and the flagellators were heavily damaged centuries ago.