GIOTTO di Bondone
(b. 1267, Vespignano, d. 1337, Firenze)


Tempera on wood, 578 x 406 cm
Santa Maria Novella, Florence

In contrast to earlier representations of Christ on the Cross, such as those by his teacher Cimabue, Giotto emphasizes the earthly heaviness of the body: the head sinks deeply forward and the almost plump body sags. The human side of the Son of God is made clear. Mary and John look down sorrowfully from the horizontal ends of the cross at the dead Lord.

This, probably Giotto's earliest surviving work, is the largest and most ambitious of the shaped panels of Christ on the cross painted by Giotto. Although his limited anatomical knowledge prevented him attaining the realism of his later crucifixes (in Padua and Rimini), Giotto's break with Byzantine tradition is clear. This can be seen from the natural pose, the sense of real weight in the way Christ's body so painfully hangs, the basic simplicity of the loin-cloth, and the realism of the two feet fixed with a single nail.