Matteo di Giovanni, The Crucifixion

Photo courtesy of Dave Penman (All Rights Reserved)


Country House
Mells Manor
The Crucifixion
Medium and support
Tempera and gold leaf on wood
Overall height: 37 cm, Overall width: 70 cm
Matteo di Giovanni (c.1428-1495)
Catalogue Number


This panel has long been known to students of Sienese art and Matteo di Giovanni’s authorship has never been doubted. It was associated by Sir John Pope-Hennessy (1960) with two other panels by Matteo di Giovanni, both in the Art Institute, Chicago, and conjecturally connected by him with Matteo’s ferocious Massacre of the Innocents of 1482 (Sant’Agostino, Siena). However, it was established firmly by Trimpi (1983) that it was the central panel of the predella of the Placidi altarpiece painted by Matteo for the church of San Domenico, Siena, and documented to 1476. The predella comprises three horizontal narrative scenes: flanking the Crucifixion at the viewer’s left is the Dream of St Jerome and at the viewer’s right St Augustine’s Vision of St Jerome. The side panels in Chicago are 3–4 centimetres narrower than the Crucifixion whose importance is thus emphasised. Luke Syson informs the present writer that the Mells panel is in much better condition than its companions. The three narratives were separated by two upright figures, St Augustine and St Vincent Ferrer (both in the Lindenau Museum, Altenburg, standing in simulated niches). The appurtenance of all these now separate panels to the predella was confirmed by technical examination at the National Gallery, London, in 2007, which established that all were painted on the same plank, subsequently divided.1

The treatment of the Crucifixion in this panel is well analysed and described by Syson: 

At the centre (literal and metaphorical) of the predella, Christ on the Cross is painted with the same corporeal realism as in Jerome’s crucifix (in the left panel of the main storey), deliberately isolated from the other figures in the scene and, by virtue of his scale, floating forward of them. The scene is at once iconic and descriptive. St John the Evangelist turns towards the group of women on the left in which the fainting Virgin is supported by the Marys ‘beholding far off’ (Matthew 27.55). One raises her hand in awe while another, dressed in yellow, and Saint Mary Magdalene, dressed according to tradition in red with her hair flowing loose, place their hands on the Virgin’s belly – across her womb. On the right of the cross, pointing up to it, stands the centurion wearing all’antica armour and a Phrygian cap, amazed by the events which followed Christ’s death: ‘And behold the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; and the graves were opened and the many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and came out of their graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many. Now when the centurion and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake and those things that were done they feared greatly saying, ‘Truly, this was the Son of God’ (Matthew 27:51–54).2

Matteo di Giovanni was an inventive and independent-minded painter. His style shows something of Donatello’s asperity and he seems to have learnt much from the painter-sculptor Vecchietta. His bright colours and sharp forms make him recognisable. He was, perhaps, the toughest-minded Sienese painter of his generation.

by Paul Joannides


John Pope-Hennessy, 'A Crucifixion by Matteo di Giovanni', The Burlington Magazine, vol. 102, 1960, pp. 63–7

Erica Susanna Trimpi, '“Johannem Baptistam Hieronymo aequalem et non maiorem”: A predella for Matteo di Giovanni’s Placidi Altarpiece', The Burlington Magazine, vol. 125, 1983, pp. 457–67

Erica Susanna Trimpi, 'A Reattribution and Another Possible Addition to Matteo di Giovanni’s Placidi Altarpiece', The Burlington Magazine, vol. 127, 1985, pp. 363–7

Erica Susanna Trimpi, Matteo di Giovanni: Documents and a Critical Catalogue of his Panel Paintings, Ann Arbor : University of Michigan, 1987

Keith Christiansen, Laurence B. Kanter and Carl Brandon Strehlke, Painting in Renaissance Siena 1420–1500, exh. cat., New York : Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1988, no. 49b, pp. 274–8 (entry by Laurence Kanter)

Oliver Garnett, 'The Letters and Collection of William Graham: Pre-Raphaelite Patron and Pre-Raphael Collector', The Walpole Society, vol. 62, 2000, d202, p. 324, as Matteo di Giovanni (WG inventory 261: £100/sale 125, bought Agnew [3910] 30 guineas)

Dora Sallay, 'Nuove considerazioni su due tavole d’altare di Matteo di Giovanni: la struttura della pala Placidi di San Domenico e della pala degli Innocenti di Sant’Agostino a Siena', Prospettiva, vol. 112, 2003, pp. 76–93

Renaissance Siena: Art for a City, ed. Luke Syson, exh. cat., London : National Gallery, 2007, no. 35, pp. 163–73 (entry by Luke Syson)


  1. Information kindly provided by Luke Syson, personal communication, 2020.

  2. Syson 2007, pp. 163–4.


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