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Christ Among the Doctors

Predella panel of an altarpiece; companion to John G. Johnson Collection, Philadelphia Museum of Art (Cat. 18), and a panel in the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (1731/5)

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

Made in Florence, Italy, Europe

c. 1427-1430

Tempera and gold on panel with horizontal grain

7 5/8 x 19 3/4 inches (19.4 x 50.2 cm)

Curatorial Department:
European Painting

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

Accession Number:
Cat. 19

Credit Line:
John G. Johnson Collection, 1917

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This panel was part of a predella, an old Italian word meaning step, which supported the main part of an altarpiece.

Additional information:
  • PublicationItalian Paintings 1250-1450

    The Virgin and Joseph, on the left, encounter the young Christ, who is seated on a raised platform in the temple, as he holds a discussion with the elders, who are seated on what appear to be drums of columns arranged in a circle.

    The story comes from Luke 2:41-52. After Passover, which the Holy Family spent in Jerusalem, Mary and Joseph set off on the journey home, not noting the absence of the twelve-year-old Christ. After a day's travel they returned to Jerusalem to search for him, and after three days found Jesus in the temple, disputing with the elders, which is the moment shown in this panel.

    In Tuscany this scene is found in only the most complete cycles of Christ's life. Trecento examples by Duccio (q.v.)1 and Taddeo Gaddi2 place Christ off-center and emphasize the dialogue between him and his parents. In the Johnson panel, however, Toscani follows Lorenzo Ghiberti's depiction on the first doors of the Florentine baptistery (installed on Easter Sunday 1424), in which Christ is shown on a raised platform in the apse of a basilican-style temple.3 Yet whereas in the Ghiberti version the contact between Christ and his parents has not yet taken place, in the Toscani interpretation Mary and Joseph have found Christ and seem to gesticulate in wonderment at what they encounter as he continues to talk to the elders.

    A number of the other compositional devices Toscani has used come from Masaccio's (q.v.) mural painting Raising of the Son of Theophilus and the Chairing of Saint Peter (c. 1425-26)4 in the Brancacci chapel of Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence. For example, Masaccio chose a circular arrangement for those who kneel around the enthroned Peter, and he also enclosed that scene with a garden wall inlaid with colored marble, beyond which plants could be seen.

    Bernhard Berenson (1908), in reference to the Presentation (Philadelphia Museum of Art, John G. Johnson Collection, cat. 18), which he had previously seen in a photograph, ventured an attribution to Masaccio. However, he changed his mind in Johnson's 1913 catalogue, calling both predella panels the work of "some mediocre, fluent little man inspired by Masaccio, but showing affinities with Giovanni del Ponte and the 'Maestro del Bambino Vispo [Gherardo Starnina (q.v.)].'" He suggested that this artist might be Andrea di Giusto, an attribution that gained currency because of his documented relationship with Masaccio. Roberto Longhi (1940) also noted the panels' dependence on Masaccio, but associated them with Arcangelo di Cola da Camerino. It was Luciano Bellosi's 1966 reconstruction of Giovanni Toscani's oeuvre that made it clear that the paintings were by him.

    The predella to which the Johnson panels belonged also included, as Bellosi recognized, the Adoration of the Magi (see Melbourne, National Gallery of Victoria, Felton Bequest, 1966) in the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne. The inclusion of Christ Among the Doctors suggests that the predella formed part of a very complete cycle of the infancy of Christ. A fourth scene would probably have shown the Nativity, and depending on the size of the altarpiece, another panel may have depicted the Flight into Egypt or the Massacre of the Innocents.

    Given that the Johnson and Melbourne panels formed part of a predella most probably depicting the infancy of Christ, it is likely that the main scene of the altarpiece would have been an Annunciation, which represents the moment of Christ's Incarnation. If this were indeed the case, it may have been the now-lost painting commissioned by Simone Buondelmonti, probably for the now-destroyed church of Santa Maria Oltrarno in Florence.5 A painting of this subject by Giovanni Toscani has been recently identified in the collection of Georgetown University (see Washington, D.C., Georgetown University, Gift of Maria Coleman) and may have been part of this commission.6 Its width is right for the total length of the total width of the three predella panels. The fact that his biblical namesake, Simeon, is shown wearing a halo in the Presentation provides further possible confirmation of this identification. Left unfinished at Toscani's death in 1430, the project was subsequently handed over to Giuliano d'Arrigo Pesello for completion. In her 1433 tax return the artist's widow claimed that she had still not been paid for her husband's work on the altarpiece, which was then in possession of a certain Nicolai Niccoli.7 This may have been the humanist book collector Niccolò Niccoli, who was associated with Simone's cousin Cristoforo, the archpriest of Santa Maria Oltrarno.

    One other suggestion for the main section of the altarpiece, put forth by Bellosi (1966),8 is a painting (present location unknown) sold at Heberle in Cologne on November 5-6, 1901 (lot 2 [as Allegretto di Nuzi (q.v.)]), which consists of a central panel of the Virgin and Child with angels and two lateral panels, one depicting a female martyr saint and Saint John the Baptist and the other Saints Peter and Paul. The lateral panels are by Giovanni Toscani, whereas the central panel is by an anonymous Florentine artist working in the International Gothic style. This painter could have been one of Toscani's more conservative contemporaries, such as Giuliano d'Arrigo Pesello, who completed parts of the Buondelmonti Annunciation left unfinished at Toscani's death. Carl Brandon Strehlke, from Italian paintings, 1250-1450, in the John G. Johnson Collection and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2004, pp. 426-429.


    1. Alessandro Bagnoli, ed. Duccio: alle origini della pittura. Cinisello Balsamo (Milan), 2003. Exhibition, Siena, Santa Maria della Scala, Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, October 4, 2003-January 11, 2004, postrestoration color repro. p. 215.
    2. Florence, Galleria dell'Accademia; Andrew Ladis. Taddeo Gaddi: Critical Reappraisal and Catalogue Raisonné. Columbia, Mo., 1982, plate fig. 6b-5.
    3. Richard Krautheimer in collaboration with Trude Krautheimer-Hess. Lorenzo Ghiberti. Princeton Monographs in Art and Archaeology, 31. 3rd ed. Princeton, 1982, plates 30-31.
    4. Paul Joannides. Masaccio and Masolino: A Complete Catalogue. London, 1993, color plate 96.
    5. On the church, see Walter Paatz and Elisabeth Paatz. Die Kirchen von Florenz: Ein kunstgeschichtliches Handbuch. vol. 3. Frankfurt am Main, 1952, pp. 155-59.
    6. Miklós Boskovits in Luciano Bellosi with Laura Cavazzini and Aldo Galli. Masaccio e le origini del rinascimento. Milan, 2002. Exhibition, San Giovanni Valdarno, September 20- December 21, 2002, pp. 60, 72 n. 19.
    7. 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 quando morì Giovanni, lasciò una tavola d'altare, dentrovi la Nunziata. Non va compiuta: die'lla a compiere a Giuliano dipintore nel Corso. La detta tavola è di Simone Buondelmonte. Non è fatto mercato; è rimessa in Niccolaio Niccoli." (Moreover when Giovanni died, he left an altarpiece, with an Annunciation. It was not finished, and it was given to Giuliano, painter in the Corso, to finish. The said painting belongs to Simone Buondelmonte. He has not paid for it; it is being held by Niccolaio Niccoli.)
    8. Bellosi knew only an old photograph of the painting in the Kunsthistorisches Institut, Florence. A photograph in the Witt Library, London, identifies it as having been sold at Heberle in 1901.


    Bernhard Berenson. "La Madonna pisana di Masaccio." Rassegna d'arte (Milan), vol. 8, no. 5 (May 1908), p. 84 (cat. 18; possibly Masaccio);
    Bernhard Berenson. Catalogue of a Collection of Paintings and Some Art Objects. Vol. 1, Italian Paintings. Philadelphia, 1913, pp. 14-15, repro. pp. 240-41 (school of Masaccio, possibly Andrea di Giusto);
    Raimond van Marle. The Development of the Italian Schools of Painting. vol 10. The Hague, 1928, p. 304;
    Bernhard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: A List of the Principal Artists and Their Works with an Index of Places. Oxford, 1932, p. 12;
    Bernhard Berenson. Pitture italiane del rinascimento: catalogo dei principali artisti e delle loro opere con un indice dei luoghi. Translated from the English by Emilio Cecchi. Collezione "Valori plastici." Milan, 1936, p. 11;
    Roberto Longhi. "Fatti di Masolino e di Masaccio." Critica d'arte (Florence), vol. 5, no. 34, fascs. 25-26, pt. 2 (July-December 1940), p. 183 n. 23 (Roberto Longhi. Edizione delle opere complete di Roberto Longhi. 14 vols. Florence, 1956-91, vol. 8, pt. 1, p. 55 n. 23);
    John G. Johnson Collection: Catalogue of Paintings. Foreword by Henri Marceau. Philadelphia, 1941, p. 1 (Andrea di Giusto);
    Bernhard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: A List of the Principal Artists and Their Works with an Index of Places. Florentine School. 2 vols. London, 1963, p. 6;
    Luciano Bellosi. "Il Maestro della Crocifissione Griggs: Giovanni Toscani." Paragone-arte (Florence), n.s., vol. 17, no. 193/13 (March 1966), pp. 49-50, figs. 29a, b;
    [Barbara Sweeny]. John G. Johnson Collection: Catalogue of Italian Paintings. Foreword by Henri Marceau. Philadelphia, 1966, p. 2, repro. p. 114 (Andrea di Giusto);
    Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, 1972, p. 204;
    Dizionario enciclopedico Bolaffi dei pittori e degli incisori italiani dall'XI al XX secolo. vol. 11. Turin, 1976, pp. 135-36;
    Philadelphia Museum of Art. Paintings from Europe and the Americas in the Philadelphia Museum of Art: A Concise Catalogue. Philadelphia, 1994, repros. p. 235.

    Companion panel for Philadelphia Museum of Art, John G. Johnson Collection cats. 18 and 19
    Predella panel of an altarpiece: Adoration of the Magi. Melbourne, National Gallery of Victoria, Felton Bequest, 1966.

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