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Crucifixion with the Virgin and Saints John the Evangelist and Mary Magdalene

Niccolò di Segna, Italian (active Siena), documented 1331 - 1348

Made in Siena, Italy, Europe

Early 1330s

Tempera and tooled gold on panel with vertical grain

13 5/8 x 5 5/16 inches (34.6 x 13.5 cm)

Curatorial Department:
European Painting

* Gallery 310, European Art 1100-1500, third floor

Accession Number:
Cat. 90

Credit Line:
John G. Johnson Collection, 1917

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The pelicans' nest at the top of the cross refers to Christ's sacrifice for humanity. According to legend, the pelican pierces its breast to feed its offspring its own blood.

Additional information:
  • PublicationItalian Paintings 1250-1450

    Christ is shown hanging on the cross with blood flowing down his arms and out of the wound in his side. The Virgin and Saint John the Evangelist stand in mourning at the left and right. Mary Magdalene embraces the foot of the cross. The nest of pelicans above the cross symbolizes Christ's sacrifice, since, according to medieval legend, the bird would nourish her young with the blood of her own heart.

    The Crucifixion borrows elements from both Ugolino di Nerio (q.v.) and Simone Martini, which suggests a date in the early 1330s. Saint John's pose comes from one seemingly invented by Ugolino, who used it in his Crucifixion of about 1325,1 possibly once in the church of Santa Trinita in Florence, and another one (see Empoli, convent of San Romano. © Madrid, Fundación Colección Thyssen-Bornemisza, no. 412) of about the same date, from the Franciscan convent of San Romano in Empoli.2 Christ's elongated arms and low hanging position are modeled on prototypes by Simone Martini from to the early to mid-1320s: the Crucifixion in the Fogg Art Museum (see Cambridge, Harvard University Art Museums, Fogg Art Museum, Hervey E. Wetzel Bequest Fund, no. 1919.51) and the Crucifixion from the polyptych of about 1326 once belonging to Matteo Orsini and now in the Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten in Antwerp.3

    Bernhard Berenson (1913, 1932, 1936, 1968) attributed the Johnson painting to Ugolino di Nerio on the basis of its Duccesque characteristics. Gertrude Coor (1955) placed it with Ugolino's following, and Burton Fredericksen and Federico Zeri (1972) called it simply fourteenth-century Sienese. Miklós Boskovits, during a visit to the Johnson Collection in November 1978, attributed it to Niccolò di Segna.4 Stylistically, the Crucifixion compares with a crucifix (present location unknown) attributed to Niccolò di Segna, formerly in the Adolphe Stoclet Collection in Brussels.5 While it is possible that the Johnson Collection's Crucifixion was the valve of a diptych, panels with such sharply peaked gables are rare in diptychs. Instead, the picture may have been the pinnacle of an altarpiece. Carl Brandon Strehlke, from Italian paintings, 1250-1450, in the John G. Johnson Collection and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2004, pp. 339-341.


    1. Now in the collection of the earl of Crawford and Balcarres; James H. Stubblebine. Duccio di Buoninsegna and His School. 2 vols. Princeton, 1979, fig. 391.
    2. This may have originally been in the Bardi di Vernio chapel of Santa Croce in Florence; see Hayden B. J. Maginnis. "The Thyssen-Bornemisza Ugolino." Apollo (London), vol. 118, no. 257 (July 1983), pp. 16-21.
    3. No. 257; Andrew Martindale. Simone Martini: Complete Edition. Oxford, 1988, plate 120.
    4. Boskovits (Miklós Boskovits. Review of Stubblebine 1979 and White 1979. The Art Bulletin (New York), vol. 64, no. 3 (September 1982), p. 502) published this attribution in 1982 in a review of James H. Stubblebine's Duccio di Buoninsegna and His School. The painting is not reproduced in Stubblebine's book.
    5. Sold London, Sotheby's, March 24, 1965, lot 10 (as Niccolò di Segna).


    Bernhard Berenson. Catalogue of a Collection of Paintings and Some Art Objects. Vol. 1, Italian Paintings. Philadelphia, 1913, p. 52 (Ugolino di Nerio);
    Raimond van Marle. The Development of the Italian Schools of Painting. vol. 2. The Hague, 1924, p. 108;
    Bernhard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: A List of the Principal Artists and Their Works with an Index of Places. Oxford, 1932, p. 583;
    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. 501;
    John G. Johnson Collection: Catalogue of Paintings. Foreword by Henri Marceau. Philadelphia, 1941, p. 17 (Ugolino di Nerio);
    Gertrude Coor. "Contributions to the Study of Ugolino di Nerio's Art." The Art Bulletin (New York), vol. 38, no. 3 (September 1955), p. 159;
    [Barbara Sweeny]. John G. Johnson Collection: Catalogue of Italian Paintings. Foreword by Henri Marceau. Philadelphia, 1966, p. 438 (Ugolino di Nerio);
    Bernhard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: A List of the Principal Artists and Their Works with an Index of Places. Central Italian and North Italian Schools. 3 vols. Rev. and enlarged ed. London, 1968, p. 438;
    Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, 1972, p. 240 (Siena, fourteenth century);
    Miklós Boskovits. Review of Stubblebine 1979 and White 1979. The Art Bulletin (New York), vol. 64, no. 3 (September 1982), p. 502;
    Philadelphia Museum of Art. Paintings from Europe and the Americas in the Philadelphia Museum of Art: A Concise Catalogue. Philadelphia, 1994, repro. p. 221;
    Mojmír Frinta. Punched Decoration on Late Medieval Panel and Miniature Painting. Pt. 1, Catalogue Raisonné of All Punch Shapes. Prague, 1998, p. 452

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