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North Italian School, circa 1400
PROPERTY OF A EUROPEAN COLLECTOR (LOTS 1-6)
North Italian School, circa 1400

The Crucifixion with the Madonna and Saint John the Evangelist

Details
North Italian School, circa 1400
The Crucifixion with the Madonna and Saint John the Evangelist
on gold ground panel, shaped top
12¼ x 10 in. (31 x 25.5 cm.)
Provenance
Anonymous sale; Semenzato, Venice, 7 December 1997, lot 213, as 'Pietro Lorenzetti' (unsold).

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Lot Essay

This highly expressive panel, in which a deeply sorrowful Madonna and John the Evangelist lament the suffering of Christ on the Cross, invites the viewer to contemplate His sacrifice in a meditative context free of narrative embellishment. The features of the figures, along with their stylised robes, reveal the artist’s skill as an observer of emotional as well as physical detail. The Y-shaped Cross, whose pruned branches indicate that it is a living tree, grows from the ground above the skull of Adam. According to a story in the apocryphal Golden Legend, Adam, near death, sent his son Seth to return to the Garden of Eden to retrieve the Oil of Mercy that God had promised mankind. The angel guarding the gate allowed Seth to enter but refused to give him the oil, instead sending him home with three seeds from the Tree of Knowledge, from which Adam and Eve had eaten the forbidden fruit. Upon Adam’s death, the seeds were planted in his mouth, eventually growing into a sapling with three trunks, as shown here.

According to the legend, the tree was dug up by Noah and taken with him onto the Ark. It served as the medium for Moses’s famous vision (the burning bush), and one of its hewn branches allowed him to strike water from the rock. It was re-planted outside the Promised Land in Moab and later cut for use as a pillar in Solomon’s temple, but when Solomon’s carpenters could not make the tree fit, it was repurposed as a bridge to connect Jerusalem with the surrounding hills. Eventually, when there was no wood in Calvary, it was used for the Cross on which the Son of Man was crucified, set upon the very spot where the skull of Adam had been buried.

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