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Baptism of Christ and the Decapitation of Saint James Major

Predella panel from the altarpiece from the Ardinghelli Chapel in Santa Trinita, Florence; companion panels are in the Galleria dell'Accademia, Florence (no. 3333, no. 6089); the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore (37.632); the Carandini Collection, Rome; and a private collection in Florence

Giovanni Toscani (Giovanni di Francesco Toscani), Italian (active Florence), c. 1370-80 - 1430

Made in Italy, Europe


Tempera and tooled gold on panel with horizontal grain

16 1/8 x 26 3/8 inches (41 x 67 cm)

Curatorial Department:
European Painting

* Gallery 312, European Art 1100-1500, third floor

Accession Number:
Cat. 11

Credit Line:
John G. Johnson Collection, 1917

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Toscani combined two stories in this panel. Instead of using a frame to divide them, he set them in a unified landscape on opposite sides of a mountain range. This was part of a predella, or base, of an altarpiece made for the Ardinghelli family chapel in the church of Santa Trinita in Florence.

Additional information:
  • PublicationItalian Paintings 1250-1450

    The panel contains two scenes that are set in the same landscape and divided by a mountain range. On the left is the Baptism of Christ. Saint John the Baptist stands on the bank of the Jordan as he leans over Christ, who wears only his loincloth. On the opposite bank angels hold Christ's garments. To the right of the panel is the martyrdom of the apostle James Major, an event that is briefly recorded in the Acts of the Apostles 12:1-2. Here the saint has just been decapitated, as the executioner sheathes his sword and groups of soldiers stare as James's head rolls on the ground.

    The other extant pieces of the predella to which this panel originally belonged are the Stigmatization of Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Nicholas of Bari Saving a Shipwreck (see Florence, Galleria dell'Accademia, no. 3333) and the Adoration of the Magi (see Florence, private collection). The only surviving component of the main section of the altarpiece is the right lateral panel, Saints John the Baptist and James Major (see Baltimore, The Walters Art Museum, no. 37.632), under which the Johnson predella scene would have been set. A painting of Saints Francis and Nicholas of Bari from the other lateral panel is missing. Three pinnacle panels still exist: Annunciate Angel (see Rome, Carradini Collection), Crucifixion with the Mourning Virgin and Saint John the Evangelist (see Florence, Galleria dell'Accademia, no. 6089), and Virgin Annunciate (see Rome, Carradini Collection).

    The center main section of Toscani's altarpiece was not a painting but a reliquary of the cross that had been donated by the chapel's founder, Niccolò Ardinghelli. This reliquary no longer exists; in 1487 the abbot of Santa Trinita commissioned Amerigo di Giovanni to replace the original reliquary with a new silver one.1 Although Amerigo's reliquary is now lost, written accounts suggest that it incorporated pieces of the old one. It is not clear whether Amerigo's reliquary was originally kept in the altarpiece. Although it was listed in an inventory of the chapel in 1505, by then it was not part of the altarpiece. Around 1665 a now-lost reliquary of the crucifix as well as images of Saint Giovanni Gualberti and the Blessed Umiltà were installed in the altarpiece.2 In 1740 Bernardo Davanzati, the abbot of Santa Trinita, wrote a description of the altarpiece that serves as a precious record of the lost main panel.3 In the upper section, above the sculptures, were three medallions, with the one in the center depicting God the Father and the dove of the Holy Spirit. Its original position over a reliquary of the cross would have been a reference to the Trinity, the titular of the church. The two other medallions depicted the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah.

    The altarpiece was in a chapel that Niccolò Ardinghelli had founded in 1399. It was at the top of the right aisle of the nave and adjacent to the transept. Niccolò had dedicated it to his namesake, Saint Nicholas of Bari, but because he had also donated the reliquary to the church, it was also known as the chapel of the Cross. In 1423 Niccolò's descendant Piero di Neri Ardinghelli commissioned from Giovanni and Domenico Toscani a complete refurbishment of the chapel, including mural paintings and a tabernacle altarpiece for the reliquary. Ardinghelli's marriage to Caterina di Niccolò di Nofri Strozzi on January 24, 1424 (modern style), provided the motivation for this project. The bride's uncle Palla Strozzi, the richest man in Florence, provided her with a dowry of 2,000 florins. At the time of the marriage he was still overseeing the decoration of his own newly constructed family chapel in the same church, where Gentile da Fabriano's altarpiece of the Adoration of the Magi (see Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi, no. 295) had been installed only a few months before, and where Lorenzo Monaco (q.v.) was still at work painting another altarpiece for the sacristy.4

    Given the new family alliance formed by the marriage, Palla Strozzi had a strong interest in seeing that the Ardinghelli reliquary was housed in a properly appointed chapel as soon as possible. Thus, as part of his dowry obligations to his niece, he partially paid the Toscani brothers for their work in the chapel.5 Some of the chapel's murals survive, including the one in the exterior entrance arch showing Saint Nicholas of Bari in glory6 and another, in the interior arched niche that marked the family sarcophagus,7 depicting the Pietà (see Florence, church of Santa Trinita, Ardinghelli chapel). The other walls and vaulting of the chapel were also painted, but nothing remains. The 1433 tax return of Toscani's widow states that Domenico executed the vaulting and Giovanni the rest.8

    Gentile da Fabriano's Adoration altarpiece for the Strozzi influenced the style of the Toscani's altarpiece for the Ardinghelli. The Toscani panel of the Adoration (see Florence, private collection) derives directly from the Gentile, and the bird's-eye-view landscapes of the two other predella scenes also presuppose Gentile.

    Toscani also borrowed from other sources. The position of the Baptist is based on one in the same scene in Ghiberti's first bronze doors for the baptistery (installed 1424),9 and the most immediate precedent for Toscani's depiction of the rare scene of Saint James Major's execution is Nicolò di Pietro Lamberti's sculptured predella of the niche of the Guild of the Furriers (Arte dei Vaiai e Pellicciai) on the façade of Orsanmichele in Florence.10 The saint's frontal position and executioner sheathing his sword are also used in Agnolo Gaddi's (q.v.) wall painting in the choir of Santa Croce in Florence11 as well as in works by Lorenzo Monaco and other late trecento and early quattrocento painters.

    The use of a mountain range to divide two scenes was a common device. For example, Agnolo Gaddi used it in the above-mentioned mural in Santa Croce. The technique was also frequently employed in cassone paintings, including one by Toscani.12 The artist also used it in the predella from the altarpiece last recorded in the Nevin Collection in Rome.13 Carl Brandon Strehlke, from Italian paintings, 1250-1450, in the John G. Johnson Collection and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2004, pp. 420-425.


    1. Dora Liscia Bemporad. "Appunti sulla bottega orafa di Antonio del Pollaiolo e di alcuni suoi allievi." Antichità viva (Florence), vol. 19, no. 3 (May-June 1980; printed January 1981), p. 51.
    2. Dora Liscia Bemporad in Giuseppe Marchini and Emma Micheletti. La chiesa di Santa Trinita a Firenze. Introduction by Maria Grazia Ciardi Dupré Dal Poggetto. Florence, 1987, p. 282.
    3. Anna Padoa Rizzo. "Sul polittico della cappella Ardinghelli in Santa Trinita, di Giovanni Toscani." Antichità viva (Florence), vol. 21, no. 1 (January- February 1982; printed December 1982), pp. 7-8.
    4. Florence, Museo Nazionale di San Marco. Before Lorenzo Monaco's death only the predella and the pinnacles in the frame were painted. A number of years later Fra Angelico (q.v.) would finish it. See John Pope-Hennessy. Fra Angelico. 2nd ed. London, 1974, plate 98; Marvin Eisenberg. Lorenzo Monaco. Princeton, 1989, figs. 92-95, color plate 10; John T. Spike. Fra Angelico. New York, 1997, color repro. p. 107.
    5. On the Strozzi, the Ardinghelli, and Palla's payments to the Toscani, see Stefano Orlandi. Beato Angelico: monografia storica della vita e delle opere con un'appendice di nuovi documenti inediti. Florence, 1964, pp. 10, 46 n. 3, 171, 180, 181 and n. 1.
    6. Marchini and Micheletti 1987, fig. 102.
    7. In December 1403 Michele Ardinghelli had endowed the chapel for family burials. See Francis William Kent. Household and Lineage in Renaissance Florence: The Family Life of the Capponi, Ginori, and Rucellai. Princeton, 1977, pp. 271-72.
    8. Cited in Gaetano Milanesi. "Le vite di alcuni artefici fiorentini scritte da Giorgio Vasari corrette ed accresciute coll'aiuto de' documenti." Giornale storico degli archivi toscani. (Florence), vol. 4, no. 3 (July-September 1860), p. 210: "Più dovremo avere da Piero di Neri Ardinghelli per resto d'una cappella gli dipinse in Santa Trinita el detto Giovanni. Non se ne fe patto ne' convegna. Dipesela el resto. La volta fece fare Domenico, e 'l resto Giovanni. Ànne avuto fior. 23. No so se s'a avere più." (In addition we must have from Piero di Neri Ardinghelli the outstanding monies for a chapel that the said Giovanni painted in Santa Trinita. He never made a pact or a contract for it. He painted the remaining part. The vaulting was done by Domenico and the rest by Giovanni. They were paid 23 florins. I do not know if they are owed any more.)
    9. Richard Krautheimer in collaboration with Trude Krautheimer-Hess. Lorenzo Ghiberti. Princeton Monographs in Art and Archaeology, 31. 3rd ed. Princeton, 1982, plate 32.
    10. Diane Finiello Zervas, ed. Orsanmichele a Firenze / Orsanmichele Florence. Texts by Paola Grifoni et al. 2 vols. Mirabilia italiae, 5. Modena, 1996, atlas vol., color plate 83.
    11. Bruce Cole. Agnolo Gaddi. Oxford Studies in the History of Art and Architecture. Oxford, 1977, fig. 33.
    12. See his cassone with three stories of Venus (Brunswick, Maine, Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Kress 275; Fern Rusk Shapley. Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: Italian Schools, XIII-XV Century. London, 1966, fig. 269).
    13. Luciano Bellosi. "Il Maestro della Crocifissione Griggs: Giovanni Toscani." Paragone-arte (Florence), n.s., vol. 17, no. 193/13 (March 1966), pp. 44-58, fig. 26b.


    Gaetano Milanesi in Giorgio Vasari. Le vite de' più eccellenti pittori, scultori ed architettori. Edited by Gaetano Milanesi. 9 vols. Florence, 1878-85, vol. 2, 1878, p. 19;
    Giuseppe Richa. Notizie istoriche delle chiese fiorentine, divise ne' suoi quartieri. 10 vols. Florence, 1754-62, vol. 3, 1755, p. 163;
    Bernhard Berenson. Catalogue of a Collection of Paintings and Some Art Objects. Vol. 1, Italian Paintings. Philadelphia, 1913, pp. 8-9, repro. p. 233 (Florence, c. 1425);
    Raimond van Marle. The Development of the Italian Schools of Painting. vol. 9. The Hague, 1927, p. 177;
    John G. Johnson Collection: Catalogue of Paintings. Foreword by Henri Marceau. Philadelphia, 1941, p. 6 (Florence, c. 1425);
    Walter Paatz and Elisabeth Paatz. Die Kirchen von Florenz: Ein kunstgeschichtliches Handbuch. 6 vols. Frankfurt am Main, 1940-54, vol. 5, 1953, pp. 291-92, 357-58 nn. 226-28;
    Ulrich Middeldorf. "L'Angelico e la scultura." Rinascimento (Florence), vol. 6, no. 2 (December 1955), p. 180;
    Luciano Bellosi. "Il Maestro della Crocifissione Griggs: Giovanni Toscani." Paragone-arte (Florence), n.s., vol. 17, no. 193/13 (March 1966), pp. 50-51, 55;
    [Barbara Sweeny]. John G. Johnson Collection: Catalogue of Italian Paintings. Foreword by Henri Marceau. Philadelphia, 1966, p. 53, repro. p. 116 (Master of the Griggs Crucifixion);
    Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, 1972, p. 204;
    Federico Zeri. Italian Paintings in the Walters Art Gallery. Condition notes by Elisabeth C. G. Packard. Edited by Ursula E. McCracken. 2 vols. Baltimore, 1976, pp. 30-31;
    Marvin Eisenberg. "'The Penitent St Jerome' by Giovanni Toscani." The Burlington Magazine (London), vol. 118, no. 878 (May 1976), p. 279, fig. 22;
    Anna Padoa Rizzo. "Sul polittico della cappella Ardinghelli in Santa Trinita, di Giovanni Toscani." Antichità viva (Florence), vol. 21, no. 1 (January- February 1982; printed December 1982), pp. 5-10, fig. 6;
    Anna Padoa Rizzo in Giuseppe Marchini and Emma Micheletti. La chiesa di Santa Trinita a Firenze. Introduction by Maria Grazia Ciardi Dupré Dal Poggetto. Florence, 1987, pp. 123-25;
    Luciano Bellosi in Milan, Palazzo Reale. Arte in Lombardia tra gotico e rinascimento. 1988, p. 196;
    Philadelphia Museum of Art. Paintings from Europe and the Americas in the Philadelphia Museum of Art: A Concise Catalogue. Philadelphia, 1994, repro. p. 235.

    Companion panels for Philadelphia Museum of Art, John G. Johnson Collection cat. 11
    A. Lateral panel of an altarpiece: Saints John the Baptist and James Major. Baltimore, The Walters Art Museum, no. 37.632.
    B. Predella panel of an altarpiece: Stigmatization of Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Nicholas of Bari Saving a Shipwreck. Florence, Galleria dell'Accademia, no. 3333.
    C. Predella panel of an altarpiece: Adoration of the Magi. Florence, private collection.
    D. Pinnacle panel of an altarpiece: Annunciate Angel. Rome, Carradini Collection.
    E. Pinnacle panel of an altarpiece: Crucifixion with the Mourning Virgin and Saint John the Evangelist. Florence, Galleria dell'Accademia, no. 6089.
    F. Pinnacle panel of an altarpiece: Virgin Annunciate. Rome, Carradini Collection.

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