ANGELICO, Fra
(b. ca. 1400, Vicchio nell Mugello, d. 1455, Roma)

Crucified Christ with the Virgin, St John the Evangelist and Cardinal Juan de Torquemada

1440-42
Tempera and gold on panel, 88 x 36 cm
Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge

This painting was originally the central panel of a triptych. The arms of the cross stretch right across the panel, as if intended to strengthen its frame. The upper limb takes the form of a flourishing tree, a possible reference to the popular Legend of the True Cross which claimed that the wood used for the crucifixion came originally from the tree of Jesse. In the branches of the tree sits a pelican in its piety, plucking its breast so that blood flows to feed its young, a common symbol of Christ giving of himself for the redemption of the world.

Cardinal Juan de Torquemada, a noted Dominican, kneels before the cross, his red cardinal's hat on the ground before him next to the rivulets of blood. On either side of the cross stand the Virgin and St John. The cross is in no landscape or other spatial setting. There is only an abstract gold ground behind. At the foot of the cross is a skull representing Golgotha. Its Spartan design and intense, but quietly expressed, feeling make this a powerful image reminiscent of some of Angelico's earlier frescoes in the convent of San Marco.

Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 22 minutes):
Heinrich Schütz: Die sieben Worte am Kreuz SWV 478