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The Scourging of the Four Crowned Martyrs, Niccolò di Pietro Gerini

Author: Lily Jewell     

      The Scourging of the Four Crowned Martyrs (1385-1390) is an altarpiece panel by Niccolò di Pietro Gerini.  The materials used are tempera, silver, and tooled gold.  Although it is not known where the altarpiece originated, it is suggested that the piece came from the Church of Orsanmichele in Florence.[1]   The panel depicts the Martyrs being punished, who became patron saints of artists in European cities.[2]  The story of the Four Crowned Martyrs was known from The Golden Legend of Jacobus de Voragine.  There is a brief passage outlining who the Martyrs were and how they obtained that title:

The Four Crowned Martyrs were Severus, Severianus, Carpophorus, and Victorinus, who were beaten to death with leaded scourges by order of Diocletian.  Their names were unknown at the time, …. it was decreed that their memory should be honoured under the names of five other martyrs, …. Pope Melchiades then decreed that the former four should be honoured under the names of the latter five, and should be called the Four Crowned Martyrs.[3]

Despite the convoluted history of the Martyrs, this is a case wherein Roman Law was considered wrong and the Church and divine judgement was above the rule of Roman Law.

      The figures are depicted in an open tribunal hall.  On the right the Martyrs are being beaten by a torturer with a morning star, a cane with three spiked spheres on whips.[4]  Looking from the left is the Roman official Lampadius, who ordered the punishment, and two of his courtiers.[5]  Lampadius is being strangled by two devils.[6]  Christ is watching from the upper left corner.

      In this exhibition, I am investigating how composition and monstrosity contribute to our understanding of justice in the Middle Ages.


1. Carl Brandon Strehlke, Italian Paintings 1250-1450: In the Johnson Collection and the Philadelphia Museum of Art (Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2004), 155.

2. Carl Brandon Strehlke, 156.

3. Jacobus de Voragine, The Golden Legend, trans. Granger Ryan and Helmut Ripperger (Salem: Ayer Company, 1969), 662.

4. Carl Brandon Strehlke, 155.

5. Carl Brandon Strehlke, 155.

6. Carl Brandon Strehlke, 155.