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The Crucifixion with the Madonna and Saint John the Evangelist

The Crucifixion with the Madonna and Saint John the Evangelist
tempera and gold on panel
12 1⁄2 x 9 in. (31.8 x 22.9 cm.)
with Wildenstein & Co., Inc., New York.
with Compagnia di Belle Arti, Milan.
with Robilant and Voena, London, where acquired by the present owner in 2012.
M. Laclotte, in Duccio: alle origini della pittura senese, Alessandro Bagnoli, ed., exhibition catalogue, Siena, 2003, p. 418.
M. Laclotte, La collezione Salini: dipinti, sculture e oreficerie dei secoli XII, XIII, XIV, e XV, I, Luciano Bellosi, ed., Florence, 2009, p. 164.
Milan, Compagnia di Belle Arti and New York, Sperone Westwater Gallery, Oro: maestri gotici e Lucio Fontana, 27 November 1998-13 February 1999.

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Lot Essay

This hauntingly beautiful and deeply moving devotional panel is a relatively recent discovery. It has understandably been associated with one of the most original masters of the Sienese trecento, Ambrogio Lorenzetti. Of the quartet of remarkable painters who emerged in the generation after Duccio di Buoninsegna, astringent Ugolino di Nerio, courtly Simone Martini and the Lorenzetti brothers, Pietro and Ambrogio, the latter was in many respects the most original. His genius for narrative was as eloquent as his brother’s and his response to what he observed was more direct. This is demonstrated most directly in the allegories of government, both good and bad, of 1338-39 in the Sala della Pace of the Palazzo Pubblico, but is equally evident in the matchless Maestà of about 1335 at Massa Marittima, or the better known and somewhat later Presentation in the Galerie degli Uffizi, Florence. Documentary evidence of substantial commissions establishes that Ambrogio must have needed the resources of a significant workshop at least by the 1330s.

This panel was first published in 1998 by Andrea De Marchi who understandably catalogued it as by Ambrogio Lorenzetti himself and proposed that it was the right section of a diptych and the companion to the stylistically intimately related Madonna and Child with two Angels at Magdalen College, Oxford (fig. 1). When that picture was borrowed for an exhibition at Wildenstein, London (The Art of Painting in Florence & Siena from 1250 to 1500, 1965, no. 83, as Pietro Lorenzetti), St. John Gore noted that Roberto Longhi (Paragone, CXXV, 1960, p. 60) favored an ‘avvicinamento’ with Ambrogio and that Philip Pouncey (presumably a verbal opinion) agreed. De Marchi concluded his entry by stating that the Crucifixion was undoubtedly executed in Ambrogio’s bottega, but added: ‘la discussione può rimanere aperta sul grado di autografa (‘the discussion of the degree of autography can remain open’).

Carl Brandon Strehlke noted in 2019 that the tooling of the borders in both the Alana and Oxford pictures is similar but not identical, pointing out that differences in such tooling are not uncommon in the valves of diptychs. Michel Laclotte (2003), who accepted that this panel and that at Oxford (which he thought to be in New York and stated that he had not examined) were from the same diptych, refers to these as from the ‘bottega di Ambrogio’ in his entry for a panel of the Crucifixion from another diptych by Ambrogio now in the Salini collection. He recapitulated this view in his catalogue of that collection (2009). Other scholars have subsequently expressed views, Laurence Kanter (24 June 2011) placing the picture with others as by a hand close to both the Lorenzetti brothers, a view that was rejected verbally by Miklòs Boskovits and by Sonia Chiodo (private communication dated 23 February 2012). Subsequently Kanter has suggested that the panel may be by a Sienese illuminator working independently of the Lorenzetti, hypothetically Simone di Gheri Bulgarini, cousin of the painter Bartolomeo Bulgarini, who is documented between 1321 and 1347. Carl Brandon Strehlke considers the panel to be by a ‘workshop collaborator’ of Ambrogio.

The composition derives from Duccio, whose influence is palpable in the Salini Crucifixion, which is evidently a relatively early work. The attitude and silhouette of the Virgin in the Alana picture is very similar to its counterpart in the Salini panel, but her left hand is not shown. While the Salini Saint John looks downwards in his sorrow, his hands clasping a fold of his mantle and his feet shown to demonstrate his stance, his counterpart in the Alana picture looks up at Christ as if to echo the Virgin, and his feet are hidden by his robe.

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