This picture—at once austere and tender—belongs to a series of seven showing the life of Christ. The masterly depiction of the stable, which is viewed from slightly below, and the columnar solidity of the figures are typical of Giotto, the founder of European painting. The impetuous action of the kneeling king, who picks up the Christ Child, and Mary’s expression of concern translate the Biblical account into deeply human terms. As the sculptor Ghiberti declared (ca. 1450): "[Giotto] made [art] natural and gave it gentleness."
The Artist: Giotto is the key figure of Western painting. His emphasis on solidly described figures and his exploration of a rational pictorial space set the course of European art for the next five hundred years. His achievement was celebrated by contemporaries from Dante and Petrarch to Boccaccio, who included a story about the artist in the Decameron (sixth day, fifth story). Vasari accords him the leading role in his famous Lives of the Artists, noting that he revived "the methods and outlines of good painting [that] had been buried for so many years . . .". He was in great demand and worked throughout Italy—Rome, Assisi, Rimini, Padua, Florence, Naples, Bologna, and Milan. His transformative impact on Italian art is due to the fact that in each place he worked he engaged local artists as assistants. Four main fresco cycles attributable to Giotto and assistants survive: that of the life of Saint Francis in the church of San Francesco, Assisi (the attribution and date were long disputed but it has been demonstrated that the cycle was begun under the reign of Nicholas IV, between 1288 and 1292, and completed by 1297; further cycles related to his presence there at later dates are in the lower church); the life of Christ in the Arena Chapel, Padua, one of the defining works of European Painting (completed by 1305); and two later fresco cycles in the church of Santa Croce, Florence. Each of these cycles has a distinctive character and reveals an artist who was constantly evolving. Giotto's towering genius was recognized as exceptional—if not unique—by his contemporaries, but the fact that—like Raphael two centuries later—he usually worked with a team of assistants and sometimes seems to have restricted his role to that of impresario, laying out the designs, has posed problems of interpretation for modern critics, wedded to the idea of "the master's hand."
The Picture: The MMA picture combines two events: the foreground shows the Adoration of the Magi while in the left background an angel announces the birth of Christ to two shepherds. It thus combines the narratives of the gospels of Matthew (2:1–12) and Luke (2:8–13). The Adoration is unusual, if not unique, in showing the oldest king kneeling, his crown set on the ground, and taking the Christ Child from the manger. Joseph, who holds the king's gift, looks on fixedly while the Virgin, depicted reclining on a mattress within the stable, wears a concerned expression. Next to Joseph are two black and one white sheep. The treatment of a canonical scene in terms of a human drama is typical of Giotto, and builds on his fresco cycle in the Arena Chapel in Padua. There, in the scene of the Adoration of the Shepherds, the Virgin is shown reclining on a mattress beneath the stable, turning to place her child in the manger. In the scene of the Adoration of the Magi she is depicted seated, flanked by two attendant angels, regally holding the Christ Child on her lap while in front of her the oldest king kneels to kiss the child. There is no known literary source for the features of the Museum's picture; however, a similar, humanizing, approach to the sacred story was promoted by devotional literature, such as the thirteenth-century Meditations on the Life of Christ, and was developed in liturgical dramas and mystery plays. These popular sources underscore one aspect of Giotto's pictorial revolution, which has often been linked to the populist ministry of the Franciscan order. No less characteristic of the pictorial revolution he promoted is the clear articulation of the space in three stepped tiers, with the shepherds shown as though standing on a notional, far side of the hill behind the stable. The roof of the stable is shown as though viewed from below and to the right. Of the two stars, that in front of the hill is a later addition.
The series to which it belonged: It has now been firmly established that the picture formed part of a series of seven scenes, all painted on a single, horizontal plank of wood, each scene separated from the adjacent one by a thin, vertical band of gold. Left to right, the series showed: The Nativity (MMA), the Presentation (Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston), the Last Supper and Crucifixion (Alte Pinakothek, Munich), the Entombment (Berenson Collection, Florence), the Descent into Limbo (Alte Pinakothek, Munich), and Pentecost (National Gallery, London). All scenes are the same size and the events follow in chronological order. A raised edge (or barb) on the left side of the first panel and the right side of the last demonstrate that an engaged frame once surrounded the series. Uniquely, the reverse of the MMA panel preserves intact part of its gesso preparation as well as a porphyry-colored, reddish paint and graffiti that possibly dates to the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries (see Additional Images, fig. 2). There is also the space where, originally, a vertical batten was affixed, both as a restraining element against warping but possibly also attaching the plank to a more elaborate structure or frame. The scene of the Last Supper, in Munich, and the panels in the National Gallery, London, and in the Berenson Collection, Florence, also have traces of a vertical batten (though the paint has been scraped off). The gold leaf in all of the panels is on a green preparation rather than on the more usual red bole (the use of a green preparation for the gold is also found on panels from an altarpiece painted by Giotto for the chapel of Saint Stephen in the church of Santa Croce, Florence). That the reverse was painted and accessible (and thus vulnerable to being marked by graffiti) pretty much excludes that the series was incorporated into a piece of liturgical furniture, such as the sacristy cupboard panels by Taddeo Gaddi from Santa Croce, Florence (now divided among the Galleria dell’Accademia, Florence; the Alte Pinakothek, Munich; and the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin). More probably, the series formed a low dossal.
Of notable importance is the omission from the series of key events that normally form part of a synoptic narrative, most conspicuously the Annunciation and the Resurrection. Although in a letter of 1807 it was stated that the Last Supper in Munich belonged to a group of twelve panels, this is contradicted by the technical evidence and must be incorrect (see Strehlke 2015). Rather, the omissions indicate a theologically motivated selection. It might, for example, be noted that while the inclusion of the Epiphany, the Presentation, and Pentecost can be seen as emphasizing Christ’s manifestation and ministry to the Gentiles, the trio of Passion scenes at the center underscores the theme of sacrifice—also present in the scene of the Presentation (the two pigeons required by Jewish law).
Theories relating to its commission: The center scene of the Crucifixion includes a figure in a Franciscan habit—undoubtedly Saint Francis—kneeling to one side of the cross with, on the other side, a female and male donor. Given the presence of Saint Francis there can be no doubt that the series was painted for a Franciscan church. What church this might have been has been much discussed. Ghiberti states that Giotto painted four altarpieces in the church of Santa Croce and it has been proposed (Christiansen 1982) that the series could have served as an altarpiece for the Bardi Chapel, which was dedicated to Saint Francis and in which the figural style is related. Vasari also mentions a picture by Giotto with small figures ("di piccolo figure") that had been brought from Borgo San Sepolcro to Arezzo and cut up; the pieces were, again according to Vasari, subsequently acquired by a member of the Gondi family in Florence. The possibility that this unspecified work, conceivably from the church of San Francesco in San Sepolcro, might relate to the series has been proposed (Davies 1951 and Gordon 1989). However, since—as documented by Strehlke (2015)—in 1609 the Gondi's panel was described as "Un quadro con più storiette drento il nostro Signore e della Madonna con figure piccolo, di mano di Giotto, con adornamento arabescato d'oro" (a picture with many small stories of Our Lord and the Madonna, with small figures, by the hand of Giotto, with a frame adorned with gilt arabesques), there is a contradiction with Vasari's account, since according to him the panel from Sansepolcro had already been cut up. Finally, a third proposal would have it that the scenes formed a dossal for the high altar of the church of San Francesco in Rimini, where we know Giotto worked and for which he painted a monumental crucifix, still in the church. However, the further suggestion that the two donor figures in the Munich Crucifixion are identifiable with Malatesta di Verucchio and his wife or sister (Gordon 1989) can be excluded, for the male figure is clearly dressed in liturgical vestments (see Additional Images, fig. 3). As pointed out by Strehlke (2015), the priest wears a green alb and a gilt-decorated collar known as an amice. He also has a maniple over his right arm such as is used at mass and this gives the scene a specifically sacral allusion. The woman has a hood that could indicate that she belongs to a lay order. After all is said and done, concrete evidence for any of these suggestions regarding the origin of the series is lacking and each one involves a different chronological placement. The series has been dated as early as about 1305 (D'Arcais 1995) but is more generally—and convincingly—placed in the second or third decade of the century (a minute discussion of the various arguments put forward can be found in Strehlke 2015).
Attribution: Just as there is a variety of views regarding the dating of the series, so their attribution—whether they were entirely painted by Giotto or merely designed by the master and painted with workshop assistance—has been much discussed. Suffice it to say that Giotto's oeuvre has undergone much re-evaluation in the last few decades and that, today, it would generally be conceded that he painted a good deal more than Anglo-American scholars ascribed to him throughout most of the twentieth century. The most celebrated artist of his day, Giotto clearly had a highly organized workshop to deal with the many commissions he received. However, this series ranks among the finest produced in that shop and most scholars would ascribe to Giotto himself a large hand in the creation of these panels. The Metropolitan’s panel is of exceptionally high quality.
[Keith Christiansen 2016]
Prince Stanislas Poniatowski, Villa Poniatowski, Rome, later Palazzo Poniatowski, Florence (by 1822?–d. 1833; his estate sale, Christie's, London, February 9, 1839, no. 101, as by Giotto, for £2.18.0 to Hall); General Charles Richard Fox, London (by 1857?–d. 1873; posthumous sale, Christie's, London, July 4, 1874, no. 37, with "The Entombment," as Early Italian School, to Daniell); William Fuller Maitland, Stansted House, Essex (by 1893–about 1911; cat., 1893, p. 12, no. 37, as by Giotto); [R. Langton Douglas, London, until 1911; sold to MMA]
Florence. Palazzo degli Uffizi. "Mostra Giottesca," April–October 1937, no. 105 (as Attributed to Giotto) [1943 ed., as by the workshop of Giotto].
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Art Treasures of the Metropolitan," November 7, 1952–September 7, 1953, no. 70.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. "Masterpieces of Painting in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," September 16–November 1, 1970, unnumbered cat. (p. 12).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Florentine Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum," June 15–August 15, 1971, no catalogue.
Los Angeles. J. Paul Getty Museum. "Florence at the Dawn of the Renaissance: Painting and Illumination, 1300–1350," November 13, 2012–February 10, 2013, no. 32.1.
Giorgio Vasari. Le vite de' più eccellenti pittori, scultori, ed architettori. Ed. Gaetano Milanesi. 1906 ed. Florence, 1568, vol. 1, p. 395, mentions a work by Giotto with small figures, possibly referring to the series to which this picture belongs, brought from Sansepolcro to Arezzo and broken up, with some pieces later taken to Florence for the collection of Baccio Gondi.
List of paintings belonging to Stanislas Poniatowski being exported from Rome. 1822, nos. 104–7 [Archivio di Stato, Rome, Camerlengato I, Titolo IV, Busta 37, fascicolo 19; see Ref. Gordon 2011, p. 239 n. 59], includes four items described as works of the Quattrocento with subjects corresponding to the four panels from this series (this work, London Pentecost, Boston Presentation, and I Tatti Entombment) sold in the Poniatowski sale of 1839.
[Gustav Friedrich] Waagen. Galleries and Cabinets of Art in Great Britain. London, 1857, p. 234, mentions two pictures of the school of Giotto in the Fox collection, London, acquired from Reverend John Sandford [sic], probably referring to this work and the Entombment [see Ex collections].
B. B. "The Adoration of the Kings by a Pupil of Giotto." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 6 (October 1911), pp. 215–16, ill., attributes it to a pupil of Giotto, dating it before Giotto's death; calls it one of two known fragments of an altarpiece and observes that the composition resembles the Nativity in the Arena Chapel, Padua.
Frank Jewett Mather. Letter to Bryson Burroughs. October 27, 1911, believes it was designed and partly executed by Giotto but painted in the main by Taddeo Gaddi; dates it about 1320–25 and considers it part of a series that included the Presentation in the Temple (here called the "Purification") in the Gardner Museum, Boston, but does not believe the series formed a predella.
Jean Paul Richter. Letter. November 21, 1911, attributes it to Giotto, connecting it with the panel in the Gardner Museum, Boston [see Ref. Mather 1911].
Frank J. Mather Jr. "General Meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America, December 27–29, 1911." American Journal of Archaeology 16 (1912), p. 102, says it belonged to a series which he believes were probably door panels that includes the Presentation in the Temple in the Gardner Museum (here called the "Purification" and ascribed to Giotto), the Entombment in the Villa I Tatti, Florence, and the Last Supper in the Alte Pinakothek, Munich.
Bernard Berenson. Letter. January 13, 1912, attributes it to the same close pupil of Giotto who painted an Entombment in his collection at Villa I Tatti, Florence.
Osvald Sirén. Giotto and Some of His Followers. Cambridge, Mass., 1917, vol. 1, pp. 79–82, pl. 60, no.1, adds the Cruxifixion and the Christ in Limbo from the Alte Pinakothek, Munich, to the series grouped by Mather [see Ref. 1912]; attributes the six panels to Giotto, allowing for the assistance of pupils, and suggests they were part of at least twelve scenes from the Life of Christ painted for a Franciscan church, possibly decorating the doors of a sacristy cupboard; notes in the MMA picture the unusual combination of the Nativity and the Adoration of the Magi and compares it to the frescoes in the Arena Chapel, Padua.
I. B. Supino. Giotto. Florence, 1920, pp. 270–71, pl. 242, calls it Giottesque and finds similarities in the frescoes from the church of San Francesco, Assisi.
Raimond van Marle. Recherches sur l'iconographie de Giotto et de Duccio. Strasbourg, 1920, p. 9 n. 5, ascribes it to a pupil of Giotto.
Frank Jewett Mather Jr. A History of Italian Painting. New York, 1923, p. 475, lists the series as from the workshop of Giotto, dating it after 1330.
Wilhelm Hausenstein. Giotto. Berlin, 1923, pp. 15, 189, 191, considers the series unimportant among the works assigned to Giotto.
Georg Graf Vitzthum and W. F. Volbach. Die Malerei und Plastik des Mittelalters in Italien. Wildpark-Potsdam, 1924, p. 265, attribute it to the workshop of Giotto.
Raimond van Marle. The Development of the Italian Schools of Painting. Vol. 3, The Florentine School of the 14th Century. The Hague, 1924, pp. 186–88, fig. 108, attributes the series to an assistant of Giotto, and dates it at about the time of the frescoes in the chapel of the Magdalen in the lower church of San Francesco at Assisi; tentatively assigns to the same artist a Crucifixion in the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin, a Crucifixion in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Strasbourg, a crucifix in the church of San Felice in Piazza, Florence, and a Madonna in the Goldman collection, New York.
Frank Jewett Mather Jr. "Two Attributions to Giotto." Art Studies 3 (1925), p. 31, calls the series a product of Giotto's school rather than his workshop.
Curt H. Weigelt. Giotto: Des Meisters Gëmalde. Berlin, 1925, pp. 242–43, ascribes the series to a pupil of Giotto, assigning to the same painter a Madonna in the Goldman collection, New York, a Saint Stephen in the Museo Horne, Florence, and a Saint Peter Martyr in the Loeser collection, Florence; suggests that it formed the predella of an altarpiece or the decoration of a sacristy chest.
William Rankin. Letter to Bryson Burroughs. August 1926, tentatively attributes it to Giotto.
Philip Hendy. "The Supposed 'Painter of Saint Stephen'–II." Burlington Magazine 53 (July 1928), pp. 17, 23, pl. II B, D (overall and detail), rejects the attribution to the painter of the Saint Stephen in the Museo Horne, Florence, and ascribes the series to Giotto.
Philip Hendy. "The Supposed 'Painter of Saint Stephen'–I." Burlington Magazine 52 (June 1928), pp. 284, 290, 295, challenges the attribution to the painter of the Saint Stephen in the Museo Horne [see Ref. Weigelt 1925] whom he identifies as Taddeo Gaddi.
Pietro Toesca. Florentine Painting of the Trecento. Florence, 1929, p. 66 n. 16, attributes the series to a follower of Giotto.
Roger Fry. "Notes on the Italian Exhibition at Burlington House—I." Burlington Magazine 56 (February 1930), p. 83, hesitantly attributes the series to a close follower of Giotto.
Roberto Longhi. "Progressi nella reintegrazione d'un polittico di Giotto." Dedalo 2 (1930), p. 290, attributes the series to Giotto; suggests that it belonged to one of the four altarpieces by Giotto that Ghiberti mentioned as in the church of Santa Croce, Florence, forming a polyptych that contained as its main panels a Virgin and Child (National Gallery, Washington), a Saint Stephen (Museo Horne, Florence), and a Saint Lawrence and Saint John the Evangelist (both, Musée Jacquemart André, Chaalis).
Philip Hendy. The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum: Catalogue of the Exhibited Paintings and Drawings. Boston, 1931, pp. 171–72, attributes the series to Giotto and reports an inscription on the back of the Entombment in the Villa I Tatti, Florence, stating that it was joined to the MMA picture [see Ref. Davies 1951].
Bernhard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance. Oxford, 1932, p. 235, lists it as a product of Giotto's workshop.
P. G. Konody. Works of art in the Collection of Viscount Rothermere. London, 1932, unpaginated, under pl. 3, attributes the series to Giotto.
Lionello Venturi. Italian Paintings in America. Vol. 1, Romanesque and Gothic. New York, 1933, unpaginated, pl. 30, attributes it to Giotto.
Bernhard Berenson. Pitture italiane del rinascimento. Milan, 1936, p. 202.
Millard Meiss. "The Madonna of Humility." Art Bulletin 18 (December 1936), p. 456 n. 74, calls it a work of the school of Giotto and discusses its iconography.
Mostra Giottesca. Exh. cat., Palazzo degli Uffizi. Bergamo, 1937, p. 42, no. 105, pl. 61, as Attributed to Giotto.
Mario Salmi. "La mostra Giottesca." Emporium 86 (July 1937), pp. 358–60, ill., attributes the series to the workshop of Giotto and suggests that the scenes were originally disposed in two rows, forming a small altarpiece for a Franciscan church, perhaps in northern Italy where this type of altarpiece was rather common.
Wilhelm Suida. "Die Giotto-Ausstellung in Florenz." Pantheon 20 (July–December 1937), p. 350, ascribes the series to Giotto's workshop.
Carlo Gamba. "Osservazioni sull'arte di Giotto." Rivista d'arte 19 (1937), p. 274, attributes the series to Giotto, assisted by pupils.
Luigi Coletti. "La mostra giottesca." Bollettino d'arte 31 (August 1937), p. 57, considers the series probably executed under Giotto's direction.
Emilio Cecchi. Giotto. Milan, 1937, p. 124, pl. 173, assigns it to Giotto's workshop.
Cesare Brandi. "Giotto (II)." Le arti 17 (December 1938–January 1939), pp.125–26, fig. 27, attributes the series to a follower of Giotto.
Harry B. Wehle. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Italian, Spanish, and Byzantine Paintings. New York, 1940, pp. 9–10, ill., attributes it to the workshop of Giotto.
Tancred Borenius. "The New Giotto Panel." Burlington Magazine 81 (November 1942), p. 277, adds to the six known panels the newly discovered Pentecost in the National Gallery, London, ascribing them all to the workshop of Giotto but very near to Giotto himself.
Giulia Sinibaldi and Giulia Brunetti, ed. Pittura italiana del duecento e trecento: Catalogo della mostra giottesca di Firenze del 1937. Exh. cat., Galleria degli Uffizi. Florence, 1943, pp. 339, 341–343, no. 105, ill., attribute it to the workshop of Giotto, calling the series similar in style to the frescoes in the church of Santa Croce, Florence.
Roberto Longhi. "Giudizio sul Duecento." Proporzioni 2 (1948), p. 51, cites the entry in the Sinibaldi and Brunetti catalogue [see Ref. 1943]; attributes the series to Giotto, dating it to the time of the frescoes in the Peruzzi chapel in the church of Santa Croce, Florence.
Pietro Toesca. Il Trecento. Turin, 1951, p. 610, attributes the series to a pupil of Giotto who collaborated with him in the frescoes of the Arena chapel, Padua.
Martin Davies. The Earlier Italian Schools. London, 1951, pp. 180–81, 304, attributes the series to the workshop of Giotto; cites the passage from Vasari [see Ref. 1568] possibly referring to these panels; interprets the inscription on the back of the Entombment at I Tatti to mean that it and the MMA panel were merely framed together, not actually joined [see Ref. Hendy 1931].
Millard Meiss. Painting in Florence and Siena after the Black Death. Princeton, 1951, p. 149 n. 70 [similar text as Ref. Meiss 1936].
Art Treasures of the Metropolitan: A Selection from the European and Asiatic Collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1952, p. 223, no. 70, colorpl. 70, identifies the standing figure on the left as Saint Jerome (probably a misprint for Saint Joseph).
Roberto Longhi. "Presenza di Masaccio nel trittico della Neve." Paragone 3 (January 1952), p. 8, suggests that the series belonged to one of the four altarpieces by Giotto that Ghiberti mentioned as in the church of Santa Croce, Florence, probably the one for the Peruzzi chapel.
Roberto Salvini, ed. Tutta la pittura di Giotto. Milan, 1952, p. 50, pl. 196, accepts Salmi's attribution to the workshop of Giotto [see Ref. 1937].
Theodore Rousseau Jr. "A Guide to the Picture Galleries." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 12, part 2 (January 1954), p. 1, ill. p. 8, attributes it to the workshop of Giotto.
Richard Offner. A Critical and Historical Corpus of Florentine Painting. Vol. 5, section 3, The Fourteenth Century. New York, 1957, p. 212 n.1, calls it Giottesque, discusses its iconography, and considers it the earliest Florentine painting to combine different episodes related to the Nativity.
Federico Zeri. "Due appunti su Giotto." Paragone 8 (January 1957), p. 78, attributes the series to Giotto.
Cesare Gnudi. Giotto. Milan, 1958, pp. 220, 222, 248, pl. 160, ascribes the series to Giotto and considers it contemporary with his frescoes in the Peruzzi Chapel in the church of Santa Croce, Florence; says the reconstruction proposed by Longhi [see Ref. 1930] would produce an polyptych too large for the chapels in Santa Croce.
Martin Davies. The Earlier Italian Schools. 2nd ed., rev. London, 1961.
Bernard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Florentine School. London, 1963, vol. 1, p. 82, lists the series among the works of Giotto's assistants.
Decio Gioseffi. Giotto architetto. Milan, 1963, p. 66, fig. 64B, quotes Salmi [see Ref. 1937] and attributes it to the workshop of Giotto.
Roberto Salvini. All the Paintings of Giotto. New York, , vol. 1, p. 62; vol. 2, p. 94, pl. 238, as Attributed to Giotto.
Robert Oertel. Die Frühzeit der italienischen Malerei. Stuttgart, 1966, pp. 98, 232 n. 30, attributes the series to a gifted assistant of Giotto, and finds it close in style to the frescoes in the Arena chapel, Padua.
Giovanni Previtali. Giotto e la sua bottega. Milan, 1967, pp. 112, 346, colorpl. 81, ascribes the series to Giotto, considers it part a Franciscan altar frontal, and suggests dating it about 1310–15; notes a close resemblance between the kneeling Magus in the MMA picture and an apostle in the Dormition of the Virgin in the Staatliche Museen, Berlin.
Ferdinando Bologna. I pittori alla corte Angioina di Napoli, 1266–1414. Rome, 1969, pp. 190–91, 229 nn. 79, 81, dates the series about 1327 and calls it part of the altarpiece painted by Giotto for the church of San Francesco in Sansepolcro [see Ref. Vasari 1568].
Ferdinando Bologna. Novità su Giotto. Turin, 1969, pp. 97–99, quotes the passage from Vasari [see Ref. 1568], and suggests the seven panels belonged to an altarpiece painted by Giotto for the church of San Francesco in Sansepolcro.
Edi Baccheschi inThe Complete Paintings of Giotto. New York, , pp. 115–16, no. 131, ill., observes signs of retouching.
Paolo Venturoli. "Giotto." Storia dell'arte 1/2 (1969), p. 156, supports Longhi's reconstruction [see Ref. 1930], saying the series formed the predella of a polyptych for a chapel in the church of Santa Croce, Florence.
Luisa Vertova. "I Tatti." Antichità viva 8 (November–December 1969), p. 73, states that the series was designed by Giotto and executed by assistants.
Calvin Tomkins. Merchants and Masterpieces: The Story of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1970, p. 169 [rev., enl. ed., 1989].
Edith A. Standen inMasterpieces of Painting in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. New York, , p. 12, ill. (color), tentatively attribute it to Giotto.
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. 13–16, ill., attribute it to Giotto but believe some areas were executed by assistants; place the series in Giotto's mature period and date it about the time of the frescoes in the Peruzzi chapel in the church of Santa Croce, Florence.
Everett Fahy. "Florentine Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum: An Exhibition and a Catalogue." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 29 (June 1971), pp. 430–31, ill., cites Zeri's attribution to Giotto [see Ref. Zeri and Gardner 1971] and notes that the gold ground was laid down on a pale green, rather than the customary red, preparation.
Everett Fahy. "Letter from New York: Florentine Paintings at the Metropolitan." Apollo 94 (August 1971), pp. 150–51, fig. 2.
Andrea Busiri Vici. I Poniatowski e Roma. Florence, 1971, pp. 331–32, 359 n. 35, fig. 148, mentions it as formerly in the Poniatowski collection, Florence.
Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972, pp. 87, 271, 606.
Philip Hendy. European and American Paintings in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Boston, 1974, pp. 104–6, suggests that the series may date prior to the 1320s.
Franco Renzo Pesenti inAn Illustrated Inventory of Famous Dismembered Works of Art: European Painting. Paris, 1974, p. 20, rejects the hypothesis that the series comes from the polyptych that contained as its main panels a Virgin and Child (National Gallery, Washington), a Saint Stephen (Museo Horne, Florence), and a Saint Lawrence and Saint John the Evangelist (both, Musée Jacquemart André, Chaalis) [see Longhi Ref. 1930].
Alte Pinakothek München: Katalog V, Italienische Malerei. Munich, 1975, p. 52, lists it with the other panels in the series.
Everett Fahy. "Italian Paintings at Fenway Court and Elsewhere." Connoisseur 198 (May 1978), p. 29, fig. 1, attributes the series to Giotto and dates it about 1320; doubts that the panels composed the predella of a polyptych, suggesting instead that they were arranged vertically on the doors of a sacristy cupboard, as part of a tabernacle, or as the compartments of a dossal.
Denys Sutton. "Robert Langton Douglas, Part III, XIV: Agent for the Metropolitan Museum." Apollo 109 (June 1979), p. 421, fig. 17, attributes it to Giotto and quotes a letter of 1911 in which Robert Langton Douglas attributes it to Giotto's early school.
Howard Hibbard. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1980, pp. 216, 219, fig. 388 (color).
Alessandro Conti. "Un 'Crocifisso' nella bottega di Giotto." Prospettiva 20 (January 1980), pp. 48–49, 54, attributes the series to Giotto.
Luciano Bellosi. Giotto. Florence, 1981, p. 65, fig. 135 (color), states that the series may come from an altarpiece painted between the decoration of the Peruzzi and Bardi chapels in the church of Santa Croce, Florence; recognizes Giotto's participation in the execution of the panels and notes similarities in the frescoes in the Arena Chapel, Padua.
Keith Christiansen. "Fourteenth-Century Italian Altarpieces." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 40 (Summer 1982), pp. 50–56, figs. 46 (color, overall and detail), 47 (reverse), 48, inside back cover (color detail), attributes its design and execution to Giotto, but identifies details probably painted by an assistant; argues that the series was arranged horizontally rather than vertically, and believes that it formed an independent altarpiece or the predella of an altarpiece, possibly for the Bardi chapel in Santa Croce, Florence.
Elvio Lunghi inLa pittura in Italia: il Duecento e il Trecento. Ed. Enrico Castelnuovo. Milan, 1986, vol. 2, p. 576, attributes the series to Giotto and says it formed a Franciscan polyptych; implies a date between 1320 and 1328.
Dillian Gordon. "The Conservatism of Umbrian Art: Raphael and Before." Journal of the Royal Society of Arts 134 (January 1986), pp. 112–13, considers the series designed and partly executed by Giotto; supports Christiansen's horizontal reconstruction of the series [see Ref. 1982], but agrees with Bologna [see Ref. 1969] that it formed an altarpiece for the church of San Francesco in Sansepolcro.
Roberta J. M. Olson and Jay M. Pasachoff. "New Information on Comet P/Halley as Depicted by Giotto di Bondone and other Western Artists." Astronomy and Astrophysics 187 (1987), p. 10, fig. 10, attribute it to a follower of Giotto, and discuss the comet which Christiansen calls a modern addition [see Ref. 1982].
Alessandro Conti. "Oro e tempera: aspetti della tecnica di Simone Martini." Simone Martini: atti del convegno. Ed. Luciano Bellosi. Florence, 1988, p. 119.
Sandrina Bandera Bistoletti. Giotto: catalogo completo dei dipinti. 1989, pp. 119–20, 123, no. 32, ill. (color), says the series constituted an altarpiece for a Franciscan church, possibly for one of the chapels in Santa Croce, Florence.
Dillian Gordon. "A Dossal by Giotto and his Workshop: Some Problems of Attribution, Provenance and Patronage." Burlington Magazine 131 (August 1989), pp. 524–31, figs. 1, 2 (x-ray), proves that the panels in the series come from a single poplar plank, arguing that they originally formed a horizontal altarpiece in dossal format, designed and partially executed by Giotto but completed by his workshop; dates this altarpiece between 1305 and 1317 and suggests that it may have been commissioned by Malatesta di Verucchio for the church of San Francesco in Rimini about 1311; notes that the Nativity and the Epiphany are frequently combined in Riminese painting of about 1330–40; transcribes a letter of 1807 in the archives of the Alte Pinakothek, Munich, stating that the series consisted of twelve panels, some depicting the Passion of Christ and others the life of the Virgin.
David Bomford et al. Art in the Making: Italian Painting Before 1400. Exh. cat., National Gallery. London, 1989, pp. 64, 66–71, colorpl. 49 (reconstruction), fig. 36 (x-ray), follow Gordon (1989) on the attribution of the series and the structure of the original altarpiece; discuss the unusual gilding and color effects.
Jill Dunkerton et al. Giotto to Durer: Early Renaissance Painting in the National Gallery. New Haven, 1991, p. 214, fig. 2a, believe the series formed an independent altarpiece, possibly made for the church of San Francesco in Sansepolcro, or for the church of San Francesco in Rimini.
Elvio Lunghi inLa pittura nel Veneto: il Trecento. Ed. Mauro Lucco. Milan, 1992, p. 525 [same text as Ref. Lunghi 1986].
Alberto Busignani. Giotto. Florence, 1993, pp. 206, 210, 307, no. 117, ill. (color), cites Longhi's opinion that the series formed an altarpiece for the church of Santa Croce [see Ref. 1930].
Francesca Flores d'Arcais. Giotto. New York, 1995, pp. 212, 216, 218, ill. p. 214, assigns the series to Giotto's workshop, dating it not long after 1305, but also proposes an attibution to the Relative of Giotto.
Luciano Bellosi. "Due tavolette di Giotto." Scritti per l'Istituto Germanico di Storia dell'Arte di Firenze. Ed. Cristina Acidini Luchinat et al. Florence, 1997, p. 41 n. 1.
Angelo Tartuferi. Giotto: guida alla mostra: itinerario fiorentino. Exh. cat., Galleria dell'Accademia. Florence, 2000, p. 74, under no. 23, attributes the series to Giotto.
Miklós Boskovits and Giorgio Bonsanti inGiotto: bilancio critico di sessant'anni di studi e ricerche. Ed. Angelo Tartuferi. Exh. cat., Galleria dell'Accademia. Florence, 2000, pp. 90–91, 174–75, ill., attribute the series to Giotto, dating it about 1320–25; find Gordon's argument for a Riminese provenance inconclusive [see Ref. 1989] and believe it could be from a Franciscan church in Sansepolcro.
M[iklós]. Boskovits inDizionario biografico degli italiani. Vol. 55, Rome, 2000, p. 416.
Andrea Kirsh and Rustin S. Levenson. Seeing Through Paintings: Physical Examination in Art Historical Studies. New Haven, 2000, pp. 18–20, 268 nn. 9, 10, 12.
Julian Gardner. "Giotto in America (and Elsewhere)." Italian Panel Painting of the Duecento and Trecento. Ed. Victor M. Schmidt. Washington, 2002, p. 161.
R. J. M. Olson and J. M. Pasachoff. "Comets, Meteors, and Eclipses: Art and Science in Early Renaissance Italy." Meteoritics & Planetary Science 37 (2002), p. 1567, figs. 6, 12 (black & white and color).
Andrea De Marchi. "La tavola d'altare." Il Trecento. Ed. Max Seidel. Florence, 2004, p. 36.
Angelo Tartuferi. Giotto. Florence, 2007, pp. 129–30, 132, dates the series to the mid-1320s; states that it is unclear whether they were part of a larger complex, and that they could come from the church of San Francesco in Sansepolcro or have been part of one of the four altarpieces Giotto made for Santa Croce.
Rachel Billinge and Dillian Gordon. "The Use of Gilded Tin in Giotto's 'Pentecost'." National Gallery Technical Bulletin 29 (2008), pp. 76, 78, 80 nn. 6, 22, pls. 8, 11 (color, overall and detail).
Dillian Gordon. The Italian Paintings Before 1400. London, 2011, pp. 233–39, figs. 5 (color), 12a (x-radiograph), dates the series to the 1310s; notes that recent microscopic examination of the male donor in the Munich panel of the Crucifixion confirms that he is tonsured and therefore a cleric; states that a list of paintings being exported from Rome by Stanislas Poniatowski in 1822 includes four items described as works of the Quattrocento, with subjects that correspond to the four panels from this series sold in the Poniatowski sale of 1839 [see Ref. Poniatowski 1822].
Christine Sciacca inFlorence at the Dawn of the Renaissance: Painting and Illumination, 1300–1350. Ed. Christine Sciacca. Exh. cat., J. Paul Getty Museum. Los Angeles, 2012, p. 243.
Christopher W. Platts inFlorence at the Dawn of the Renaissance: Painting and Illumination, 1300–1350. Ed. Christine Sciacca. Exh. cat., J. Paul Getty Museum. Los Angeles, 2012, p. 188.
Eve Borsook inFlorence at the Dawn of the Renaissance: Painting and Illumination, 1300–1350. Ed. Christine Sciacca. Exh. cat., J. Paul Getty Museum. Los Angeles, 2012, pp. 17–18, 23 n. 52, calls the panels Giottesque and thinks that there may have originally been a total of twelve scenes; notes that even though they come from a single piece of wood, they are as likely to have formed a double tier on either side of a central panel as a single horizontal row.
Victor M. Schmidt inFlorence at the Dawn of the Renaissance: Painting and Illumination, 1300–1350. Ed. Christine Sciacca. Exh. cat., J. Paul Getty Museum. Los Angeles, 2012, pp. 90–91 n. 25, refers to it as a low dossal and attributes it to Giotto's workshop.
Angelo Tartuferi inFlorence at the Dawn of the Renaissance: Painting and Illumination, 1300–1350. Ed. Christine Sciacca. Exh. cat., J. Paul Getty Museum. Los Angeles, 2012, pp. 170, 172–76, no. 32.1, ill. pp. 140, 171 (color, overall and detail), calls all seven surviving panels substantially autograph and believes that there may originally have been a total of twelve, arranged in several tiers; thinks they most likely formed part of Giotto's altarpiece in San Francesco, Sansepolcro, mentioned by Vasari.
Bryan C. Keene and Yvonne Szafran inFlorence at the Dawn of the Renaissance: Painting and Illumination, 1300–1350. Ed. Christine Sciacca. Exh. cat., J. Paul Getty Museum. Los Angeles, 2012, p. 381.
Donal Cooper inGiotto e compagni. Ed. Dominique Thiébaut. Exh. cat., Musée du Louvre. Paris, 2013, pp. 43, 47 n. 67, notes that the altarpiece had the appearance of a dossal, possibly for a Franciscan church in Umbria or the Marches.
Andrea De Marchi inGiotto e compagni. Ed. Dominique Thiébaut. Exh. cat., Musée du Louvre. Paris, 2013, p. 55, fig. 33 (reconstruction, overall in color, x-radiograph), notes that the form excludes the possibility that it was painted for a Florentine church but has precedents in Umbria and that the painted reverse excludes the possibility that it was a predella.
Carl Brandon Strehlke in Carl Brandon Strehlke and Machtelt Brüggen Israëls. The Bernard and Mary Berenson Collection of European Paintings at I Tatti. Florence, 2015, pp. 320, 322–29, Companion A under pl. 44, fig. 44.1 (color, reconstruction), assigns the altarpiece as a whole to Giotto's workshop, with Giotto supervising and doing some of the work, and believes that it was produced in Florence for an important commission outside the city, possibly in the area of Rimini; suggests that the buyer at the Fox sale in 1874, recorded as "Daniell," might be Francis Henry Blackburne Daniell [Anglo-Irish barrister and historian, 1845–1921].
Kathryn Calley Galitz. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Masterpiece Paintings. New York, 2016, pp. 10, 131–32, 134, 138, 451, no. 83, ill. pp. 78, 131 (color).