Masaccio Crucifixion


Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte




630 x 830 mm



historical period


Exhibit Artwork

Artwork Details

The Crucifixion was the central upper section of the polyptych painted by Masaccio for the chapel of notary Ser Giuliano of Colino degli Scarsi da San Giusto in the church of Carmine in Pisa in 1426. The rest of the panels have been detached or lost. Eleven of them have been retraced: The Crucifixion of Capodimonte in Naples; the main panel, depicting Madonna enthroned with Child and four Angels in the National Gallery of London; three predella panels depicting the Adoration of the Magi, the Martyrdom of St. Peter and St. John the Baptist, Stories of St. Julian and St. Nicholas in Staatliche Museen of Berlin, as well as the four small panels with the figures of Saints (St. Augustine, St. Carmelite, St. Jerome and another St. Carmelite); a panel depicting St. Paul in the Museo Nazionale of Pisa; a panel with St. Andrew in J. Paul Getty Museum of Malibu, California. The artwork represents only essential elements: there are no architectures or landscape to tone down the dramatic nature of the scene. The only element that shows a little connection into some space is a barely visible strip of ground. The panel is concentrated on four figures and their feelings and they are placed in the foreground while the background is covered with gold. The composition is dominated by the figure of Christ on the cross; his body is illuminated by the natural light coming from the left. The original position of the panel was in the upper center of the altarpiece and for this reason the redeemer’s figure is deeply curved down and he seems to have no neck at all with his head bent on his chest. This effect caused by the unusual perspective seems perhaps more awkward than illusionistic, but it reflects the experimental climate of the early Florentine renaissance. Down by the cross there are three sad figures, mother Mary, Magdalene and St. John. The three mourners have different expressions and each of them reacts in a different way to the last moments of the life of Christ. Mary is wearing a blue dress, her hands are clasped and she seems to dedicate the last words of maternal love to her son. St. John, whose figure is much slimmer compared to Mary, has sad and lost-looking eyes and he seems unable to give voice to his pain. In the center there is Magdalene represented kneeling before the cross in a red dress. The tragedy of the situation concentrates on her and her desperate cry. The decision to depict Magdalene from behind and in central position was probably because of her later inclusion in the elaboration of the altarpiece. This painting could certainly be considered as one of the most touching representations of Italian art. The polyptych of Pisa is one of the best documented works by Masaccio thanks to the commissioner who wrote down with accuracy the payments and reminders. The panel was bought in 1901 by Capodimonte museum as a work by an anonymous Florentine artist. A few years later, William Suida recognized it as Masaccio's work and associated it with the polyptych of Pisa.

Artist Details

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Tommaso Cassai of Ser Giovanni di Mone was born in 1401 in San Giovanni in Altura, today San Giovanni in Valdarno, son of notary Giovanni di Mone Cassai and Monna Jacopa of Martinozzo.

The nickname, Masaccio, was given to him by Vasari on his book of Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects because of his clumsiness. His father died when he was only five years old and he probably spent his childhood and youth learning how to paint.

In 1417 Masaccio moved to Florence together with his widowed mother and his brother he started to study art, probably in Bicci di Lorenzo’s workshop, which was the most active workshop at the time. According to Vasari, Masaccio studied under Masolino (his fellow countryman and artist, twenty years older than him), but this hypothesis has been rejected by the critics because of different artistic styles before their collaboration.

Masaccio explored the cultural and humanistic environment of Florence and the new artistic innovations of Brunelleshi, Donatello and Nanni di Banco.

Masaccio became one of the first artist to recognize the importance of Brunelleschi’s studies of perspective and humanity in Donatello’s art. He demonstrated skillful use of perspective and illuminated his figures with use of light. He studied Giotto’s work as well and he was able to understand and absorb his works more autonomously than his contemporaries.

In 1422 he enrolled in the Arte dei Medici e degli Speziali, beginning his career as an independent painter. His first reliable work is the Triptych of San Giovenale, which he made for the church of Regello even though he painted it in Florence, as documented in the inscription. The painting shows his transition from the international gothic art towards the first renaissance.

The following year Masaccio travelled to Rome with his friend Brunelleschi to attend the Jubilee. In 1424 he collaborated with Masolino da Panicale painting the frescoes with the Stories of St. Peter in the Brancacci chapel of the church of Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence.

In 1424 he enrolled in the famous Compagnia of San Luca and at the same time he painted the altarpiece known as Sant’Anna Metterza, for the church of Sant’Ambrogio in Florence and kept today in Gallerie degli Uffizi. In 1425 Masolino left Florence to travel to Hungary and Masaccio started the decoration of the Brancacci chapel and delegated some of the work for his assistants, after having accepted a wealthy assignment in Pisa from notary Ser Giuliano di Colino degli Scalzi da San Giusto, to paint a polyptych for his chapel in Santa Maria del Carmine in 1426. The polyptych was dismantled in the 18th century and the pieces are kept today in different museums in Italy and abroad. The central panel representing the Crucifixion is today in the Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte of Naples.

After becoming famous in these years, Masaccio received many private commissions, such as the Desco da Parto, today in Berlin, or Madonna Casini, today in Florence.

Between 1426 and 1428 Masaccio painted the Trinity, a fresco for the church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence, which is perhaps his most celebrated work. This work was inspired by Brunelleschi’s architecture and Masaccio wanted to represent the dogma of the Trinity set in the virtuously painted chapel.

Masaccio left Florence and moved to Rome with his family, where he died at young age.

Collection Details

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The collection of Capodimonte has the origins in the refined and elegant collection of the Farnese family. The first assemblage was formed in 1534 thanks to the initiative of Alessandro Farnese (1520-1589) and Pope Paul III, both interested in ancient objects (conserved today in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale of Naples) and the most important artists of the period.

In 1734 Charles III of Spain took the throne and inherited mother Elisabetta Farnese’s collection which was moved from Rome to Parma during the 18th century. In this occasion he felt the need to find a suitable location for the collection.

The construction of the Capodimonte building on the hill started in 1738 and it was used both as a residence and as a gallery. The place was first only visited by famous persons, such as Johann Winckelmann, Antonio Canova and Marquis de Sade.

The museum was inaugurated in 1957, thanks to the insistence of Ferdinando Bologna Raffaello Causa, opening to the public extensive collection of 2900 paintings, 150 sculptures, 17700 objects of decorative art, 26000 drawings, extended over 12000 square meters and divided into 114 rooms.

During the 18th century, the collection was enriched with the works commissioned by the sovereigns of the Bourbon family, but the lootings by French troops in 1799 marked the beginning of decline as its function as a museum.

In the 19th century the building was mostly used as a residence. French general Joachim Murat lived in the building with his wife and they brought new furnishing and interior decorations to Capodimonte.

Only after the arrival of the Savoys and thanks to Annibale Sacco, the new era of the museum started: the art objects which were spread in various residences of the Bourbon family were collected and moved to Capodimonte and there was a new attention to contemporary figurative production of art.

For this reason, there are two main groups in the collection. The Farnese collection includes the portraits of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, Giorgio Vasari and Andrea del Sarto by Raphael, portrait of Bernardo de’ Rossi by Lorenzo Lotto, portraits of Paul III and Paul III with his Grandsons Alessandro and Ottavio Farnese and Danae by Titian, Portrait of Antea by Parmigianino and the cartoons by Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci and pictorial cycles of Carracci, donated in 1600 by Fulvio Orsini. The second collection includes the historical pieces of Neapolitan art from circa 1200 to 1700. Among them are the works by Simone Martini and Colantonio’s St. Jerome, an example of the lively and rich Aragon period, and the works of foreign influence such as Pinturicchio’s Assumption of the Virgin. The 17th century was considered as the golden era of Neapolitan art, influenced by the works of Caravaggio and his followers. From this era there are Caravaggio’s Flagellation from 1606-1607, Ribera’s Drunken Silenus, Artemisia Gentileschi’s Judith and Holofernes, Guido Reni’s Atalanta and Hippomenes and Mattia Preti’s St. Sebastian.

The current layout of the museum is a result of the series of restorations in the 1980s’ and 1990s’ which determined the division of the collection onto three floors. The ground floor includes the educational rooms, the mezzanine floor holds the department of drawings and prints, the Farnese collection, the Borgia collection and the royal apartment are in the first floor and finally on the second floor the Neapolitan gallery, the D’Avalos collection, the 19th century gallery and the photographic gallery.