caption

circle of Fra Angelico, Christ on the Cross with the Virgin and St John and ?St Francis kneeling at the Base of the Cross

Photo courtesy of Caroline True (All rights reserved)

Details

Country House
Mells Manor
Title(s)
Christ on the Cross with the Virgin and St John and ?St Francis kneeling at the Base of the Cross
Date
1420s
Medium and support
Tempera on wood
Dimensions
Overall height: 29 cm, Overall width: 20.5 cm
Artist
circle of Fra Angelico
Catalogue Number
MM3
Inscription
  • Inscribed at the base: ‘AVB [B reversed] GRATIA PENA DOMINVS EQ’ and with two unidentified coats of arms

Description

The pose of the Crucified Christ in the present painting has strong echoes of the work of Fra Angelico and, in particular, of the Griggs Crucifixion in the Metropolitan Museum, New York (Acc. No. 43.95.5), a panel formerly attributed to the eponymous Master of the Griggs Crucifixion (later identified as Giovanni Toscani) but now widely accepted as an early work by Fra Angelico.1 This painting may have been carried out in collaboration: the shift in mood between the foreground and the background has led to the suggestion that it is the product of two hands and, although that hypothesis is not retained in some recent discussion, there is a clear disjunction between the restrained figures surrounding the Cross and those in the immediate foreground where the violent gesture of St John and the agonised poses of the Virgin and Mary Magdalen testify to an ‘expressionistic’ vein in the early work of Fra Angelico and/or his collaborators. However, the foreground figures in the Griggs Crucifixion do not, in the opinion of the present writer, resemble figures by Giovanni Toscani and it is doubtful whether that name can be retained for any part of that picture. Although the movement of St John in the Mells panel is not directly comparable formally to the movement of John in the Griggs panel, there is an emotional similarity which, added to the relation of the two figures of Christ, suggests that the present picture originated from the circle of the young Angelico.

Nevertheless, the level of execution seems more cursory than one would expect from the Frate and less polished, although the spacing and characterisation are spare and powerful. Reviewing reproductions of works by the lesser Florentine ‘modern’ masters of this period, the present writer cannot find any clear match for the distinctive elongated moving figure of St John, whereas the pose of the Virgin and that of Christ fall readily within the ambience of Angelico. Apart from Giovanni Toscani, the present writer has checked the work of Andrea di Giusto, Francesco d’Antonio and Paolo Schiavo among others and has found no clear matches. However, it appears to him that the Mells Crucifixion comes closer to the work of Andrea di Giusto than to that of any of the others mentioned.

by Paul Joannides

Footnotes

  1. Dr Laurence Kanter, although working from a poor photograph, has expressed concern about this painting’s surface qualities and has questioned its Quattrocento origins: private communication, 2020. The present writer did not feel doubts about the painting’s authenticity when he examined it but he has much less experience in this area than Dr Kanter and, consequently, feels it would be desirable to submit it for technical examination.

    1

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