The Crucifixion

Fra Angelico (Guido di Pietro) (Italian, Vicchio di Mugello ca. 1395–1455 Rome)

ca. 1420–23
Tempera on wood, gold ground
25 1/8 x 19 in. (63.8 x 48.3 cm)
Credit Line:
Maitland F. Griggs Collection, Bequest of Maitland F. Griggs, 1943
Accession Number:
  • Gallery Label

    Dating from the very early 1420s, this exquisitely painted work has gained broad consensus as an early work by Fra Angelico—one of the presiding figures of Renaissance art. It is a work of astonishing invention: the circle of Roman soldiers and their horses, each posed differently; Christ’s mother, who has fainted; her grieving companions (one in a strongly foreshortened pose); and the figure of Christ, which derives from a famous carved Crucifix by the sculptor-architect Brunelleschi. It was probably intended for private devotion.

  • Catalogue Entry

    The author of this modestly scaled but ambitiously conceived picture has long resisted a satisfactory identification. As a glance as the references reveals, prior to 1933 suggestions ranged, quite bafflingly, from the fourteenth-century painters Giottino (Florentine) and Pietro Lorenzetti (Sienese) to, more understandably, the fifteenth-century artists Masolino and Jacopo di Rosello Franchi. However, in 1933 Offner constructed a corpus of works around the painting, christening the anonymous author the Master of the Griggs Crucifixion (until 1943, the MMA painting was in the collection of Maitland Fuller Griggs). Among the paintings he ascribed to this anonymous master were some that were subsequently shown to have formed part of a documented altarpiece of 1423–24 by the minor Florentine master Giovanni Toscani (Bellosi 1966). With this recognition a consensus developed that the MMA painting was also by Giovanni Toscani—an eclectic artist who cribbed compositional ideas from Gentile da Fabriano, Lorenzo Ghiberti, Masolino, and the young Fra Angelico. The problem with this idea was that the MMA painting was superior in quality and more ambitious and innovative than any certain works by that master. The dilemma came into sharp focus when, in 1976, Eisenberg convincingly linked the MMA picture with an astonishingly inventive devotional painting of Saint Jerome in the Princeton University Art Museum. Especially the hands and upturned head of that figure bear close comparison with details in the MMA painting. Since the Saint Jerome bears the coats of arms of the Gaddi and Ridolfi, it can be dated to about 1424, when members of those two Florentine families married. (Kanter [2005, p. 56] has asserted that the coats of arms were added later, but there is no reason to believe that much time elapsed between the painting of the picture and the addition of the coats of arms; his analysis of the condition of the picture is open to discussion, and so also is his reconstruction of Fra Angelico’s early career.) The Saint Jerome had previously been ascribed to Masolino as well as to Fra Angelico, pointing the way to a more credible solution to the attributional conundrum of the MMA painting. Bellosi (1988) undertook a reconsideration of the two panels, which he argued were by the young Fra Angelico, and this attribution has now gained a broad consensus. (However, Kanter’s assertion that the letters on the bridle of one of the horses forms a signature—Fr[ater] Ihones—remains highly speculative.)

    The salient aspect of the picture is a combination of delicacy and rigorously inventive poses. The figure of Christ—derived from Brunellischi’s Crucifix in Santa Maria Novella (a work of about 1410–15)—is viewed at a slight angle, his head falling to one side, with the cross viewed from below; the artist clearly had some difficulty in aligning the arms of the cross with the angled position, but the attempt is itself notable. The Roman soldiers are grouped in a semi-circle that creates a niche-like space. Especially the horses are brilliantly viewed from various angles, and Longinus is shown in an expressive pose, his head turned sharply upwards, audaciously foreshortened. The use of a circular plan to organize space is characteristic of a number of Florentine works of art of the 1420s and early 1430s and is found in other works by Fra Angelico, such as his beautiful Madonna and Child Enthroned with Angels in the Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt, and the Assumption of the Virgin in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston (see Millard Meiss,"Masaccio and the Early Renaissance: The Circular Plan", reprinted in The Painter’s Choice, New York, 1976, pp. 63–81).

    In contrast to the group of Roman soldiers, the holy women and Saint John at the foot of the cross are affectingly arranged in the foreground as a separate group. One figure, her hair streaming down, her hands extended in lamentation, bends over in a foreshortened pose reminiscent of a youthful page removing the stirrups of his master in Gentile da Fabriano’s Adoration of the Magi (Uffizi, Florence)—a work that was completed in 1423 but may have been underway as early as 1420 and that Fra Angelico studied closely. Given these features, the MMA Crucifixion would seem to date about 1420–23. Fra Angelico, who must have been born around 1395, is first documented as a painter in 1418, when he was commissioned to paint an altarpiece for the church of Santo Stefano al Ponte in Florence. Not long after, he joined the Dominican order in Fiesole (in 1417 he had been a member of a confraternity of flagellants). The MMA painting would thus date soon after his novitiate, when he returned to the practice of painting, but before the frescoes of Masolino and Masaccio in the Brancacci Chapel of the church of the Carmine (ca. 1424–26)—works combining a mastery of perspectival space and the human figure that transformed the practice of painting and deeply influenced the work of Fra Angelico, beginning with the Saint Jerome in Princeton.

    Contrary to the suggestion of Kanter (2005), the picture, with its delicacy of execution and dense figural component, was intended for private devotion and is unlikely to have formed the pinnacle of an altarpiece.


  • Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings

    Inscription: Inscribed: (lower right, on breast strap of horse) . . . hone; (on cross) INRI

  • Provenance

    Vallardi, Milan (by 1847; as Italian school, 14th century); chevalier A. d'Arache, Turin (until 1860; sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, December 10ff., 1860, no. 25, as by Giotto, from the Vallardi collection, for Fr 810); Charles A. Loeser, Florence; Count Grigoriy Sergeyevich Stroganov, Rome (until d. 1910); his daughter, Princess Maria Grigorievna Scerbatov, Rome (1910–14); private collection, Rome (about 1914–about 1925); [Edward Hutton, London, about 1925]; Maitland Fuller Griggs, New York (about 1925–d. 1943)

  • Exhibition History

    New York. Century Association. "Italian Primitive Paintings," February 15–March 12, 1930, no. 21 (as by Masolino or a close follower, lent by M. F. Griggs) [see Zeri and Gardner 1971].

    Art Institute of Chicago. "A Century of Progress," June 1–November 1, 1933, no. 89 (as by Masolino, lent by Maitland F. Griggs).

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Florentine Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum," June 15–August 15, 1971, no catalogue.

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Painting and Illumination in Early Renaissance Florence 1300–1450," November 17, 1994–February 26, 1995, no. 46 (as Attributed to Fra Angelico).

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Fra Angelico," October 26, 2005–January 29, 2006, no. 8 (as by Fra Angelico).

  • References

    Giovanni Rosini. Storia della pittura italiana esposta coi monumenti. Supplement, Pisa, 1847, pl. 198 (engraving), as in the Vallardi collection, Milan; attributes it to an unknown fourteenth-century painter.

    Antonio Muñoz. "Moyen-Âge—Renaissance—Époque Moderne." Pièces de choix de la collection du comte Grégoire Stroganoff. 2, Rome, 1911, p. 15, pl. VIII, ascribes it to Giottino.

    Raimond van Marle. "The Florentine School of the 14th Century." The Development of the Italian Schools of Painting. 3, The Hague, 1924, p. 421 n. 1.

    Raimond van Marle. Letter. February 1, 1926, attributes it to Pietro Lorenzetti or perhaps Ambrogio Lorenzetti painting under Pietro's influence.

    Lionello Venturi. "Contributi a Masolino, a Lorenzo Salimbeni e a Jacopo Bellini." L'arte 33 (March 1930), pp. 165–66, fig. 1, considers it an early work of Masolino and notes the influence of Lorenzo Monaco.

    Lionello Venturi. Pitture italiane in America. Milan, 1931, unpaginated, pl. CLV, as by Masolino.

    Bernhard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance. Oxford, 1932, p. 494, lists it as by Rossello di Jacopo Franchi.

    Bernard Berenson. "Quadri senza casa: Il Trecento fiorentino, V." Dedalo 12 (1932), p. 192, ill. p. 191 (detail), tentatively ascribes it to Rossello di Jacopo Franchi.

    Mario Salmi. Masaccio. Rome, [1932], p. 134, rejects the attribution to Masolino and attributes it an anonymous Florentine painter close to Masolino and Arcangelo di Cola da Camerino.

    Richard Offner. "The Mostra del Tesoro di Firenze Sacra—II." Burlington Magazine 63 (October 1933), p. 173, pl. II C, attributes it to an anonymous Florentine painter, calling him the Master of the Griggs Crucifixion and reconstructing his oeuvre and activity.

    Lionello Venturi. "Fifteenth Century Renaissance." Italian Paintings in America. 2, New York, 1933, unpaginated, pl. 185.

    Mario Salmi. "Aggiunte al Tre e al Quattrocento fiorentino." Rivista d'arte 16 (1934), pp. 178, 180, accepts Offner's [see Ref. 1933] attribution to the Master of the Griggs Crucifixion.

    Hans Tietze. Meisterwerke europäischer Malerei in Amerika. Vienna, 1935, p. 326, pl. 41 [English ed., "Masterpieces of European Painting in America," New York, 1939, p. 310, pl. 41], attributes it to Masolino.

    Alfred M. Frankfurter. "The Maitland F. Griggs Collection." Art News 35 (May 1, 1937), p. 30, ill. p. 39.

    Georg Pudelko. "The Maestro del Bambino Vispo." Art in America 26 (April 1938), p. 63 n. 31, accepts Offner's grouping of pictures ascribed to the Master of the Griggs Crucifixion.

    Charles Sterling. La peinture française: Les primitifs. Paris, 1938, p. 151 n. 50, observes its relationship to the work of the Limbourg brothers; dates it about 1400–1410.

    Roberto Longhi. "Fatti di Masolino e di Masaccio." Critica d'arte, part 2, 25–26 (July–December 1940), p. 185 n. 22, accepts Offner's grouping of pictures ascribed to the Master of the Griggs Crucifixion.

    Francis Henry Taylor. "The Maitland F. Griggs Collection." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 2 (January 1944), ill. p. 157, as from the workshop of Masolino.

    Bernard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Florentine School. London, 1963, vol. 1, p. 193, pl. 547, tentatively attributes it to Rossello di Jacopo.

    M[iklós]. Boskovits, M[iklós]. Mojzer, and A[ndrás]. Mucsi. Das Christliche Museum von Esztergom (Gran). Budapest, 1965, p. 28, under no. 4, note similarities between the style of Rossello di Jacopo and the Master of the Griggs Crucifixion, suggesting the two may have worked in the same shop.

    Luciano Bellosi. "Il Maestro della Crocifissione Griggs: Giovanni Toscani." Paragone 17 (March 1966), pp. 44, 57, identifies the Master of the Griggs Crucifixion as Giovanni Toscani and dates this work to his late period, observing the influence of both Gentile da Fabriano and Fra Angelico.

    Bernard Berenson. Homeless Paintings of the Renaissance. Bloomington, 1970, pp. 150–51, 250, fig. 266 (detail) [same text as Ref. Berenson 1932 (Dedalo)].

    Everett Fahy. "Florentine Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum: An Exhibition and a Catalogue." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 29 (June 1971), p. 433, ill., attributes it to Giovanni Toscani.

    Edmund P. Pillsbury. Florence and the Arts: Five Centuries of Patronage. Exh. cat., Cleveland Museum of Art. Cleveland, 1971, unpaginated, under no. 4, attributes it to Giovanni Toscani.

    Federico Zeri with the assistance of Elizabeth E. Gardner. Italian Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Florentine School. New York, 1971, pp. 75–77, ill., attribute it to Giovanni Toscani, finding elements reminiscent of Masolino, Lorenzo Monaco, and late Gothic sculpture.

    Marvin Eisenberg. "'The Penitent St Jerome' by Giovanni Toscani." Burlington Magazine 118 (May 1976), pp. 276, 279–80, figs. 13, 14, 17, 19 (overall and details), compares it to a panel of Saint Jerome in the Princeton University Art Museum, attributing both works to Giovanni Toscani.

    Charles Sterling. "Jan van Eyck avant 1432." Revue de l'art no. 33 (1976), p. 80 n. 116, accepts Berenson's [see Ref. 1932] attribution to Rossello di Jacopo.

    Federico Zeri. Italian Paintings in the Walters Art Gallery. Baltimore, 1976, vol. 1, p. 29.

    Hugh Brigstocke. Italian and Spanish Paintings in the National Gallery of Scotland. [Edinburgh], 1978, p. 172, finds the attribution to Giovanni Toscani convincing.

    Luciano Bellosi in Arte in Lombardia tra Gotico e Rinascimento. Exh. cat., Palazzo Reale. Milan, 1988, p. 196, relates this work and the Princeton Saint Jerome to the early activity of Fra Angelico, rejecting the attribution to Giovanni Toscani.

    Andrea De Marchi in Pittura di luce: Giovanni di Francesco e l'arte fiorentina di metà Quattrocento. Exh. cat., Casa Buonarroti, Florence. Milan, 1990, p. 85, suggests that it may be an early work by Fra Angelico.

    Miklós Boskovits. Immagini da meditare: ricerche su dipinti di tema religioso nei secoli XII-XV. Milan, 1994, p. 365 n. 46, figs. 266, 268 (overall and detail), accepts the attribution to Fra Angelico; dates it about 1415–20.

    Carl Brandon Strehlke in Painting and Illumination in Early Renaissance Florence 1300–1450. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1994, pp. 31, 42, 324–26, no. 46, ill. (color), as attributed to Fra Angelico; dates it about 1424–25, when Angelico's style was closest to that of Gentile da Fabriano; states that the group of figures around the fainting Virgin may derive from a prototype by Arcangelo di Cola da Camerino; suggests it was the center of a triptych or part of a diptych, possibly opposite the Adoration of the Magi in the Abegg-Stiftung, Riggisberg.

    John T. Spike. Angelico. Milan, 1996, p. 263, no. 137, ill., rejects the attribution to Fra Angelico.

    Graham Hughes. Renaissance Cassoni, Masterpieces of Early Italian Art: Painted Marriage Chests 1400–1550. Alfriston, England, 1997, pp. 188, 208, 224.

    Giorgio Bonsanti. Beato Angelico. Florence, 1998, pp. 115–16, no. 8, ill. pp. 23–24 (color, overall and detail), believes it was painted by two different artists, attributing the crucified Christ and background figures to Fra Angelico.

    Laurence B. Kanter in Rediscovering Fra Angelico: A Fragmentary History. Exh. cat., Yale University Art Gallery. New Haven, 2001, pp. 19, 37 n. 6, fig. 3, calls it "one of Fra Angelico's earliest masterpieces".

    Luciano Bellosi in Masaccio e le origini del Rinascimento. Exh. cat., Casa Masaccio, San Giovanni Valdarno. Milan, 2002, p. 46, fig. 43 (detail).

    Giorgio Bonsanti in Masaccio e le origini del Rinascimento. Exh. cat., Casa Masaccio, San Giovanni Valdarno. Milan, 2002, p. 172.

    Carl Brandon Strehlke. "The Princeton 'Penitent Saint Jerome,' the Gaddi Family, and Early Fra Angelico." Record of the Art Museum, Princeton University 62 (2003), pp. 21, 23–24 nn. 110–11, figs. 22, 24 (overall and detail), attributes it to Fra Angelico and dates it about 1420–22; relates the figure of Christ to that in a "Crucifixion with Saints Dominic and Thomas Aquinas" (Santa Maria Novella, Florence) and a "Crucifix" (Saibene collection, Milan), both of which he attributes to Angelico and dates slightly earlier than the MMA work; publishes the inscription on the horse's bridle reading "frater Johannes", noting that it could be either the artist's signature or a reference to the owner; remarks that the painting is the right size and subject matter to have been made as a devotional picture for a monastic cell and that it may be one of Angelico's first surviving works for a Dominican patron.

    Carl Brandon Strehlke. Italian Paintings 1250–1450 in the John G. Johnson Collection and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Philadelphia, 2004, p. 417.

    Laurence Kanter in Fra Angelico. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2005, pp. 11–12, 50, 52–54, 56, 77, no. 8, ill. (color), attributes it to Fra Angelico and relates it to the artist's high altarpiece for San Domenico, which he dates 1420–21; believes it probably originally served as the central pinnacle of an altarpiece.

    Pia Palladino in Fra Angelico. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2005, p. 34, includes it among works "now almost unanimously regarded as autograph products of Angelico's early years".

    Lorenzo Sbaraglio in Gentile da Fabriano and the Other Renaissance. Exh. cat., Spedale di Santa Maria del Buon Gesù, Fabriano. Milan, 2006, p. 278 [Italian ed., "Gentile da Fabriano e l'altro Rinascimento"], mentions it as "today recognized as the work of the young Fra Angelico".

    Giorgio Bonsanti in Beato Angelico: L'alba del Rinascimento. Exh. cat., Musei Capitolini, Rome. Milan, 2009, p. 27, fig. 4 (color), reiterates his attribution [see Ref. 1998] to Fra Angelico and his belief that the five foreground figures are by a different hand; dates it about 1423.

    Mara Minasi in Beato Angelico: L'alba del Rinascimento. Exh. cat., Musei Capitolini, Rome. Milan, 2009, p. 148, under no. 2, mentions that it is now attributed to Fra Angelico.

  • See also