15th century North Italian gilt bronze pax of the Lamentation

Image of 15th century North Italian gilt bronze pax of the Lamentation

Second half of the 15th century; Northern Italy, possibly Milan
Gilt bronze

Approximate size: 17.2 x 13 cm

The present pax probably derives from a finer original realized in more precious materials. For example, the vigor of its central motif is carved in such a way as to suggest the original artwork was conceived in carved stone or perhaps mother-of-pearl. The intricacy of its frame suggests a separate master adept in silverwork. Overall, this bronze pax likely preserves what must have been a precious original involving more than one artist. Suggesting the central relief was not originally integral with the frame is a singly known independent example, cast in bronze, and featuring a flange for setting into a pax frame, preserved in the Berlin Museum collections. Another independent example of the relief, set into a later pax frame is in the Louvre.

The relief itself depicts a Lamentation scene featuring the three Mary’s of the biblical narrative attending the corpse of Christ. Flanking the cross are the instruments of the Passion and in the background are motifs depicting the kiss of Judas and the washing of Pilate’s hands. Above the horizontal beam of the cross are the moon and sun.

The architrave of the pax features the inscribed text: IN TE DOMINE SPERAVI (I put my trust in you, Lord). This Latin inscription could suggest a possible Milanese origin as the frame itself relates to the artistic milieu of that region and the Latin verse itself was given special attention in the Milanese church during the end of the 15th century. For example, the widely celebrated composer, Josquin des Prez, under the employ of Cardinal Ascanio Sforza in Milan, composed the sacred frottola: In te Domine speravi, becoming a favorite within the Sforza court. Furthermore, the Duke, Ludovico Maria Sforza’s, interest in carved gems and other precious materials could indicate a possible commission of this type of artwork in late 15th century Milan.

This pax is particularly interesting in that it exemplifies the presence or appreciation of late Gothic Northern motifs within Italy, revealing the intersection of these cultures in turn-of-the-century Lombardy.

The handle on the reverse of the pax is broken along the bottom, probably due to a hard fall. However, its original design is observed on various other late 15th century paxes of the Lombard region. This style of handle was continually employed into the first quarter of the 16th century and its frequent use on paxes of this region and period suggest a common model born from a single prolific workshop and perhaps copied by later provincial foundries.

The quality of the present pax suggests it is contemporary and its gilding is rubbed through use and handling over time. Overall, this pax is particularly rare with only two other alike examples known in the art market, one of which was formerly in the collection of the Italian art scholar Charles Avery.

References and provenance available upon request.