Christ the Redeemer alongside Saints Peter, the Virgin Mary, John the Evangelist and Paul
S. PETRUS; ΜΡ ΘΥ ; Α Ω ; S.IOHANNES ; S.PAULUS:
MELIOR ME / PINXIT ; A D MCC/ LXXI
The Virgin Mary and Saints Peter, John the Evangelist and Paul flank the blessing Jesus Christ, interceding on behalf of humanity. This composition uses a particularly popular representation in the Byzantine world known as Deesis (δέησις), a Greek term meaning supplication or prayer.
The work has several features that make it quite exceptional in the context of 13th-century painting, starting with the inscription featuring the painter's name and the date of execution: Meliore is engraved in the gold background of the central part while the date, 1271, is given in Roman numerals in the panels with St. Peter (AD MCC) and St. Paul (LXXI). The shape of the altarpiece, rectangular with a protruding central spire, is innovative for the time. It features half-length figures framed by trefoil arches that seem to pre-empt the layout of polyptychs in the following century. The gold leaf is elaborately fashioned, not only for the haloes, but also through the flowers engraved rising from below and from architectural features.
The garlands with cherubs inserted between the arches are an addition carried out in the 15th century by Cosimo Rosselli (Florence, 1439 - 1507).
This painting is the work of Meliore di Iacopo, a painter active in Florence in the third quarter of the 13th century, whose name appears in the list of Florentine citizens who fought against the Sienese at the Battle of Montaperti in 1260. A revival of classical Byzantine models and elaborate embellishments are the most typical features of his paintings.
It is not known where this altar reredos now at the Uffizi was intended for, though it joined the collection of Alfonso Tacoli Canacci (1726-1801) in Florence in the 18th century. Later becoming part of the Galleria Nazionale di Parma collection, the painting was exchanged to the Florentine Galleries in 1928 and has been at the Uffizi since 1948.