The Ruzzolone Crucifix
In the centre of the presbytery of the Cathedral of Termini Imerese (The Church of St Nicholas of Bari) there is the painted wooden Crucifix, made in 1484 by the painter from Palermo Pietro Ruzzolone, defined by many scholars as the 'Raphael of Sicily', whose life and activity is documented from 1484 to 1526. Cusimano has provided the original documents of the act of commission for this work, signed on 26th April 1484:
the painter Pietro Ruzzolone obliged to the venerable priest Pietro Calogero Serio, the Archpriest of the Major Church of Termini Imerese, to make and painting a large Crucifix [...] placed, as was the custom, on the beam of the said Major Church.
The work must have been similar in size and decoration to the Crucifix in the Church of S. Giacomo La Marina in Palermo, now lost, which was certainly also a model for the Crucifix made by Nicolò Graffeo in 1485 in Polizza Generosa.
On the reverse side, the Crucified Christ is surmounted by the serpent twisted around the tree of knowledge, on the upper forehead there is a pelican feeding its young with its own blood (a symbol of the Resurrection), on the side panels, there is the Madonna and St John the Evangelist, below there is Mary Magdalene. On the back, there is the risen Christ holding the banner on the sepulchre, guarded by a soldier, and two angels holding scrolls with evangelical inscriptions, in the four corners of the crucifix there are the symbols of the evangelists with phrases taken from the Gospels.
This work is a significant example of Catalan-Gothic inspired painting, which also testifies an influence of northern Italian taste. It still has its original gilded wooden frame, presumably the work of the carver from Termini Giacomo Di Leo. Monsignor Di Marzo exalts its particularities, especially the figure of Mary Magdalene, an example of high pictorial and artistic quality elevating the work to a higher level. The figure of Mary Magdalene is an example of high pictorial and artistic quality that raises the name of Pietro Ruzzolone to the same level as the great masters of his time.
As Ignazio De Michele informs us, after being abandoned for a long time in the storerooms of the Sacristy, the Crucifix was recovered in 1847 by the Town Council's Decurionate, it was then restored by the painter D. Giuseppe Culotta from Termini and placed on a side altar in the third chapel of the left-hand aisle which was built for the occasion. The current arrangement at the back of the central apse dates back to 1967.
-Cusimano R., “Brevi cenni di storia termitana”,
Tipografia Pontificia, Palermo, 1926