Lot 1
  • 1

Giovanni da Milano

30,000 - 40,000 USD
118,750 USD
bidding is closed


  • Giovanni da Milano
  • The Righteous of the Old Testament, a fragment from a Descent into Limbo
  • tempera on panel with gold, in an engaged frame
  • overall: 9 3/8  by 7 5/8  in.; 23.7 by 19.4 cm.
    painted surface: 7 3/4  by 6 1/8  in.; 19.8 by 15.6 cm.


Carlo Lasinio, Campo Santo, Pisa (bears wax seals of both Lasinio and Campo Santo on reverse of the panel and an old attribution to Fra Angelico).

Catalogue Note

This beautiful panel was recognized by Keith Christiansen as a predella fragment of a now dismembered altarpiece by Giovanni da Milano, depicting the Descent into Limbo.1  The subject suggests the predella would have been made up of scenes from after the Death of Christ and Daniela Parenti suggests this may in fact be the lost third panel of the predella formerly in the Bacri collection.2  The present panel would have been the first, leftmost panel; in the center would have been the panel representing the Appearance of Christ to Peter, the Resurrection, and Noli Me Tangere, now in a private collection; and at right would have been the Incredulity of Saint Thomas, also now in a private collection.  Parenti has proposed a reconstruction of the altarpiece, with Christ the Redeemer as the central panel; Eleven Saints at left; and the Virgin, Christ of the Apocalypse and Saint John the Baptist forming the cuspids above (fig. 1).3  The altarpiece is thought to date between 1365 and 1369, though its reconstruction remains incomplete and details of it commission or original location are as yet unknown.

According to Christian doctrine, in the time between Christ’s Death and Resurrection, he descended to Limbo to release the prophets and patriarchs of the Old Testament.  We see those figures crouched here, at the entrance to Hell; though not damned, they were unable to pass to Paradise until the coming of Christ.  Giovanni da Milano appears to be aware of Giotto’s treatment of the subject, now in the Alte Pinakothek, Munich, sharing much the same iconography.  The figure in red and blue looks upward toward Christ, who would have been represented standing at left.  Christ’s hand is still visible at the left edge, and the angle suggests he would have been standing, perhaps leaning over the huddled figures similar to Giotto’s composition.  He grasps the arm of the prophet in the foreground to lead him from the Limbo which is similarly portrayed as the open mouth of a dark cave. 

We are grateful Keith Christiansen for suggesting the attribution upon firsthand inspection and to Daniela Parenti and Andrea De Marchi for endorsing it on the basis of photographs.


1.  Private written communication, dated 6 August 2014, on the basis of firsthand inspection.
2.  Private written communication, dated 16 October 2014, on the basis of photographs.
3.  For more information on the altarpiece reconstruction see D. Parenti, Giovanni da Milano, Capolavori del gotico fra Lombardia e Toscana, exhibition catalogue, pp. 242-249; Christ the Redeemer now in the Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan (inv. no. 1008); Eleven Saints now in the Galleria Sabaudi, Turin (inv. no. 14); the Virgin, Christ of the Apocalypse and Saint John the Baptist now in the National Gallery, London (inv. no. 579 A).