The Artist: Little is known of the life of Cristiani, but he was primarily active in the Tuscan city of Pistoia, northwest of Florence. Several dated works help in reconstructing his development: the altarpiece of Saint John the Evangelist in the church of San Giovanni Fuorcivitas, Pistoia, is signed and dated 1370; a fresco of the incredulity of Saint Thomas in the Pistoia cathedral dates to 1380; a signed triptych in the Rivetti collection, Biella, is dated 1390; and a fresco of the Annunciation in the Oratorio dei Rossi, Pistoia, is documented to 1396–98. There is also a signed Madonna in the Museo Civico, Pistoia. Cristiani’s work shows the influence of the Florentine painters Nardo di Cione (active by ca. 1343, died 1365/66), the brother of Andrea di Cione (Orcagna), and Maso di Banco (active 1320–46), the great continuator of Giotto’s style.
The Paintings: These four companion panels in The Met’s collection belong to a series dedicated to the early Christian martyr Lucy, who was executed in Syracuse, Sicily, in 303 or 304, at the height of the Roman emperor Diocletian's (r. 284–305) persecutions of the Christians. According to legend, Lucy’s father died early and her mother arranged a marriage for her even though Lucy had vowed to dedicate her life to God. In the first panel, Lucy and her mother, Eutychia, visit the shrine of Saint Agatha in Catania, north of Syracuse, to pray for a cure for Eutychia’s illness. Saint Agatha appears to Lucy in a dream and tells her that because of her faith her mother will be cured. This allowed Lucy to persuade her mother to give away her dowry money to the needy, as seen in the second panel. When Lucy’s betrothed learned that she was giving away her riches, he denounced her to Paschasius, the governor of Syracuse, as shown in the third panel. Paschasius ordered Lucy to sacrifice to an idol, and when she refused, sentenced her to be taken away to a brothel. The fourth scene shows Lucy standing steadfast even as a team of oxen attempts to pull her to the brothel. Following this trial, wood was piled around her and set on fire, but would not burn. Finally she was martyred by the sword.
It was Berenson (1931, 1932) who first ascribed these four panels to Cristiani, an attribution confirmed in all the subsequent literature. They were thought to have belonged to the predella of an altarpiece until Wehle (1950) suggested that they could be side panels of an altarpiece dedicated to Saint Lucy. Zeri (1961) linked the panels to a painting of Saint Lucy Enthroned in the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven (32 3/4 x 30 1/2 in.; see Additional Images, fig. 1), with two narrative panels arranged on either side of the central painting. A fifth panel, depicting the last communion and martyrdom of Saint Lucy, came to light in 1964 when it was sold at auction (Sotheby’s, London, June 24, 1964, no. 48; see Additional Images, fig. 2). Seymour (1970) reconstructed the altarpiece with the Yale panel in the center, flanked by two rows of three panels each: at left, top to bottom, Lucy and her Mother at the Shrine of Saint Agatha, Saint Lucy Giving Alms, and Saint Lucy Before Paschasius; at right, Saint Lucy Resisting Efforts to Move Her, The Last Communion and Martyrdom of Saint Lucy, and the sixth missing scene. Laclotte (1997) identified the missing sixth panel as The Funeral of Saint Lucy, in the collection of Timothée Francillon, Paris, in the early nineteenth century, and known only through an engraving; the next year he published the engraving and a reconstruction of the altarpiece following that of Seymour (see Additional Images, figs. 3, 4).
The composition of the Yale painting is very similar to that of the central panel of the Saint John altarpiece in Pistoia of 1370. Boskovits (1965) dated the Saint Lucy altarpiece after the Saint John altarpiece, finding the modeling more graceful and the design more elegant, and noting the vivid stories and individualized characters of the narrative panels, but adding that the quality of Cristiani’s works declined in the 1380s and 90s. Seymour (1970) and Freuler (1991) agreed that the Saint Lucy altarpiece dates to the 1370s.
The Met acquired its four panels from a dealer in Florence in 1912. Their ownership history prior to that time is unknown; however, Galli (2007) has identified the Yale painting with one included in inventories of the collection of marchese Alfonso Tacoli Canacci in the late eighteenth century and has suggested that the marchese may originally have owned the entire altarpiece, detaching and selling the narrative panels prior to the inventories.
[Gretchen Wold 2016]
B[ryson]. B[urroughs]. "A Tuscan Predella." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 6 (May 1912), pp. 92–93, ill., as by a Tuscan master of the late fourteenth century; identifies the series as episodes in the life of Saint Lucy belonging to the predella of an unknown altarpiece from which other scenes are missing
Bryson Burroughs. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Catalogue of Paintings. 6th ed. New York, 1922, pp. 183–84, attributes the series to Lorenzo di Niccolò.
Bernard Berenson. "Quadri senza casa: Il Trecento fiorentino, III." Dedalo 11 (1931), p. 1314, ill. p. 1317 (12.41.1), mentions only three of the panels and calls them part of a predella; hesitantly attributes the series to Cristiani, noting a similarity to works by Lorenzo di Niccolò and Mariotto di Nardo; calls them scenes from the legend of a female saint.
Bernhard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance. Oxford, 1932, pp. 238–39, lists three of the panels as by Cristiani and calls them part of a predella; identifies them as scenes from the legend of a female saint.
Bernhard Berenson. Pitture italiane del rinascimento. Milan, 1936, p. 205.
Harry B. Wehle. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Italian, Spanish, and Byzantine Paintings. New York, 1940, pp. 16–17, ill., attributes the series to Cristiani and says it may have been the predella or side panels of an altarpiece dedicated to Saint Lucy.
George Kaftal. Iconography of the Saints in Tuscan Painting. Florence, 1952, col. 645, figs. 741–44, attributes the series to Cristiani and calls the panels part of a predella.
Richard Offner. "A Ray of Light on Giovanni del Biondo and Niccolò di Tommaso." Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz 7 (July 1956), p. 192, attributes the series to Cristiani.
Federico Zeri. Letter to Hellmut Wohl. March 2, 1961, believes the series was originally part of an altarpiece, with two panels on either side of a central panel of Saint Lucy with Angels (Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven).
Bernard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Florentine School. London, 1963, vol. 1, p. 51, pls. 329 (12.41.3), 330 (12.41.2).
Catalogue of Important Old Master Paintings. Sotheby's, London. June 24, 1964, p. 35, under no. 48, says the series belonged to the same predella as a scene of the Martyrdom of Saint Lucy (now Kisters collection, Kreuzlingen, Switzerland).
M[iklòs]. Boskovits. "Un'opera probabile di Giovanni di Bartolomeo Cristiani e l'iconografia della 'Preparazione alla Crocifissione'." Acta Historiae Artium 11, nos. 1–2 (1965), pp. 69–70, figs. 4–5 (12.41.1–2), attributes the series to Cristiani, dating it after the artist's altarpiece of 1370 in the church of San Giovanni Fuorcivitas, Pistoia; discusses the panels as part of the predella of an altarpiece with a central image of Saint Lucy with Angels (Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven), and compares them to a Christ Ascending the Cross (Christian Museum, Esztergom).
Bernard Berenson. Homeless Paintings of the Renaissance. Ed. Hanna Kiel. Bloomington, 1970, p. 126, fig. 212 (12.41.3) [same text as Berenson 1931].
Charles Seymour Jr. Early Italian Paintings in the Yale University Art Gallery. New Haven, 1970, pp. 62–63, under no. 42, states that the series also included the Communion of Saint Lucy (Heinz Kisters collection, Kreuzlingen, Switzerland), and a missing sixth scene; reconstructs the original altarpiece with the Yale Saint Lucy in the center, flanked on the left by (top to bottom) 12.41.4, 12.41.3, 12.41.1, and on the right by (top to bottom) 12.41.2, the Kisters panel, and the missing scene.
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. 39–42, ill., note that the series may have been the predella of an altarpiece, but find Seymour's (1970) reconstruction more likely; find it possible that the Yale Saint Lucy was the central panel
Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972, pp. 59, 426, 606.
Miklòs Boskovits. Pittura fiorentina alla vigilia del Rinascimento, 1370–1400. Florence, 1975, pp. 317–18, accepts the attribution to Cristiani and the connection with the panels in Kreuzlingen and New Haven; dates the MMA panels 1365–70 and the others 1375–80
Gaudenz Freuler. "Manifestatori delle cose miracolose": Arte italiana del '300 e '400 da collezioni in Svizzera e nel Liechtenstein. Exh. cat., Fondazione Thyssen-Bornemisza. Lugano, 1991, pp. 200, 202, accepts Seymour's (1970) reconstruction of the original altarpiece and dates it 1370s.
Letizia Badalassi. "Peregrini, pauperes e infirmi: appunti per una ricognizione iconografica sul tema del Viator." L'ospitalità in Altopascio; storia e funzioni di un grande centro ospitaliero: il cibo, la medicina e il controllo della strada. Ed. Alessandra Cenci. Exh. cat., Sale dei Granai, Piazza Ospitalieri. Altopascio, Lucca, 1996, p. 111, identifies the figure facing Saint Lucy in 12.41.3 as a pilgrim by the shell on his hat.
Michel Laclotte. Letter to Everett Fahy. August 25, 1997, states that the missing sixth scene is the Funeral of Saint Lucy formerly in the collection of Timothée Francillon, Paris, in the early nineteenth century; includes an engraving of this work and reports that the original has not been found.
Michel Laclotte. "N'en déplaise à Cicognara: la collection Francillon." Curiosité: Études d'histoire de l'art en l'honneur d'Antoine Schnapper. Ed. Olivier Bonfait et al. [Paris], 1998, p. 418, fig. 150 (reconstruction), repeats the information in Laclotte 1997, reproducing the line engraving of the lost panel of the "Funeral of Saint Lucy," as well as a reconstruction of the ensemble following that proposed by Seymour (1970).
Marina Gargiulo in Romei e Giubilei: il pelegrinaggio medievale a San Pietro (350–1350). Ed. Mario D'Onofrio. Exh. cat.Milan, 1999, p. 305, no. 38a–b, ill. in color (12.14.3–4), dates the series to the late Trecento.
Aldo Galli. "Tavole toscane del Tre e Quattrocento nella collezione di Alfonso Tacoli Canacci." Invisibile agli occhi: atti della giornata di studio in ricordo di Lisa Venturini. Ed. Nicoletta Baldini. Florence, 2007, pp. 20, 27 n. 56, figs. 22, 23 (12.41.1, with current and former frames), identifies the Yale picture as one included in inventories of the collection of marchese Alfonso Tacoli Canacci (1726–1801) between 1789 and 1792, hypothesizing that Tacoli Canacci originally owned the entire complex, dismembering it and selling the narrative panels separately before 1789.
Stella Panayotova in Florence at the Dawn of the Renaissance: Painting and Illumination, 1300–1350. Ed. Christine Sciacca. Exh. cat., J. Paul Getty Museum. Los Angeles, 2012, p. 241, relates the panel depicting Saint Lucy Resisting Efforts to Move Her to a manuscript illumination of the same subject by Pacino di Bonaguida (about 1340; Queen's College, Cambridge; Ms. 77C).