In 1971 Dario Covi published the documents that he had discovered in the archives of the Spedale degli Innocenti in Florence, which establish that this altarpiece was commissioned from Cosimo Rosselli by the Florentine notary Ser Andrea di Cristofano Nacchianti for a new family chapel in the church of San Simone in Florence. The chapel was to be dedicated to Saint Andrew and Saint Francis. The document, dated 23 August 1493, is of particular interest since it gives a detailed description of what the picture was to look like: 'in the centre, Christ is crucified with Angels at the sides catching his blood in chalices; at the foot of the cross, Mary Magdalen with her hair unloosed, kneels and embraces the cross; on one side stands the Virgin Mary wearing a blue mantle and Saint Andrew holding his cross; on the other side, Saint John the Baptist and Saint Francis' (Covi, op.cit., p. 236) Furthermore it states that the picture was to be executed in fine colours, with ultramarine blue, gold, and 'other materials appropriate to such work'. For his 'skill, material, and labour' Rosselli received a total of thirty-four gold florins. The document also describes that Cosimo measured the altarpiece and that the picture was to be enlarged with a pediment (now lost) painted by a certain 'Domenico', and an unnamed companion (ibid.).
Although we know little about the patron he must have been of considerable means, for in the same contract he stipulates that a house was to be built for the chaplain on the square in front of the church and that services were to be conducted in the chapel each feast day, Wednesday, Friday, Sunday in mourning of members of the family. The chaplain was to be chosen with the approval of the monks of the Badia, under whose jurisdiction San Simone stood. At the time when the document was drawn up the chaplain was a relation of the donor, Ser Agostino di Giovanni.
Cosimo Rosselli's best known work is in the Sistine Chapel where he worked from 1480 to 1482 with Sandro Botticelli, Domenico Ghirlandaio and Perugino, on the frescoes on the side walls. This altarpiece is characteristic of his later, more gentle style, which recalls the tranquillity of Perugino's compositions. It can be compared to the Coronation of the Virgin and Saints of 1505 in the church of Santa Maria Maddalena dei Pazzi in Florence.
Exactly when the altarpiece was removed from the church of San Simone is not certain. Yet the renovation of the church by Gherardo Silvani in 1625-30, when the old chapels were destroyed can be considered as a data ante quem. Covi argues that the altarpiece could also have been removed earlier as a consequence of the flooding of the Arno in 1557 which affected large parts of the city (Covi, op.cit., p. 237).