This monumental painted panel represents the Last Judgement and includes the first known cycle of works of mercy inspired by Matthew 25:35–36.
The cycle, consisting of three scenes, begins just to the right of the centre of the third register. In the first scene, a haloed cleric is helping a sick man to drink from a ewer. In the second, a further blessed benefactor—this one dressed like a layman in a short tunic—is comforting a prisoner. In the third scene another haloed layman is helping a naked pauper to put on a shirt. At a glance, the cycle appears to include only three of the six good deeds mentioned in the scriptural passage: visiting the sick, visiting prisoners, and clothing the naked. However, by providing water to the sick man, the cleric is also giving drink to the thirsty; moreover, he carries a basket of bread which alludes to feeding the hungry. And although the good deed of lodging the stranger may initially appear to be missing from this cycle, it was often suggested through the representation of a figure against an architectural backdrop (to suggest an indoor location before the advent of pictorial perspective). So the missing work of mercy is most likely represented here in the first and the third scenes.
This extraordinary panel was painted for San Gregorio Nazianzieno, the church of the monastery of Santa Maria in Campo Marzio in Rome, then inhabited by a community of canonesses. Together with the now very damaged frescoes of the legends of Saints Clement and Alexis in the lower church of San Clemente, it is a rare surviving example of the sophisticated visual religious culture of eleventh-century Rome.
The practitioners of the works of mercy represented here may be no more than generic portrayals of the righteous, following the late-antique convention of depicting virtues with haloes, or may represent specific saints in the Roman hagiographic tradition. For instance, they may depict the deacon Cyriacus and his companions, Largus and Smeragdus, three early Christian martyr saints who performed good deeds and were venerated by Roman female religious communities.
31 “When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. 34Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? 38And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? 39And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’ 40And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’ 41Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?’ 45Then he will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’