PROPERTY FROM AN ITALIAN PRIVATE COLLECTION
The subject matter is taken from the story of the Discovery of the True Cross, a medieval legend that existed in a number of different sources, tracing the history of Christ's Cross from the Garden of Eden down to the time of the Emperor Heraclius (circa 575–641). The story begins with Heraclius returning from his successful campaign of 627 against the Sassanid Emperor Kosrow II, who had invaded the Empire in 613–14, capturing Jerusalem and seizing a fragment of the True Cross amongst other Christian relics kept there. The legend held that, as Heraclius returned in victorious procession to Jerusalem with the fragment of the True Cross, an angel appeared over the city walls, forbidding him entry through the gate, which turned into solid stone, reminding him of the contrasting humility of Christ's entry into the city. The present scene depicts the humbled Emperor, who has dismounted and is carrying the relic (here depicted as the entire Cross), about to walk through the newly-opened gate.
Distinctive here is the figure in the right foreground and the coat-of-arms at his feet, which appears to be that of Janus von Eberstadt, of Saxony. He presumably commissioned this piece, as well as an accompanying panel with the same coat-of-arms showing the antecedent scene of the vainglorious Emperor being denied entry into the city, which sold at Christie's, London, 7 December 2007, lot 172.
1 Inv. no. 309; see M.J. Friedländer, Early Netherlandish Painting, vol. VIb, Leiden 1971, p. 111, cat. no. Supp. 250, reproduced pl. 249.
2 Inv. nos 75a and b; see Friedländer 1971, p. 117, cat. no. Add. 296, reproduced pl. 268.
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