This jewel-like work, painted directly onto lapis-lazuli, was painted in 1602 for Ferdinando I de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany (1549-1609). Ferdinando was made a cardinal at age fourteen, however he was never ordained. During his years in Rome he began acquiring works of art and built Villa Medici, which would eventually become the home of the French Academy in Rome. Upon the death of his older brother Francesco I, in 1587, he returned to Florence, renouncing his position as cardinal and marrying. He continued his patronage of the arts, favoring religious commissions and devotional subjects such as the present painting.
Despite its small size, the composition of this painting is exquisitely detailed. The distraught figure of Mary Magdalen kneels at the foot of the cross, gazing up at the crucified Christ. At left, a skeleton, also looking up at Christ, holds a scroll with the words Lamorte Ch’ei Sostene Perchi Viva, a reminder to the viewer of Christ’s sacrifice for mankind. At right can be seen the Resurrected Christ leading the Old Testament prophets and patriarchs out of Limbo, with the flames of hell in the background. The beautiful blue of the lapis stone is deliberately left unpainted to serve as the background sky.
This painting is recorded in the inventory of the Guardaroba Medicea on 26 October 1602, when a payment was made for two paintings: “Payment of 68 scudi for a copper painting with the ‘Madonna with her little son’ and for an oval in lapis lazuli with a ‘Crucifixion.’ “1 The latter picture is also listed in the inventory of the Guardaroba Medicea for the years 1625-1629 where it is described as hanging in the private apartments of Maria Maddalena of Austria, on the ground floor of the Villa at Poggio Imperiale, along with another small painting, also on lapis, by Cigoli: “Two small oval lapis-lazuli paintings, one depicting Christ in the Garden of Olives, by Cigoli, and the other illustrating Christ on the cross with Mary Magdalen at his feet, with the figure of death and other small figures, in the hand of Alessandro Allori, called Bronzino, framed in ebony inset with ivory, n. 2."2 This Crucifixion is further recorded in the 1654-6 inventory as hanging in the ground floor Galleria of the Villa at Poggio Imperiale,3 however it is not listed in the later inventories of the Guardaroba Medicea. The painting may have been dispersed when large portions of the collection were taken or sold at auction following the death of the last Grand Duke of Tuscany, Gian Gastone de’ Medici in 1737.
1. "pagamento di 68 scudi per un quadro in rame con la “Madonna con il figlio piccolo” e per un ovato in lapislazzuli con un “Crocifisso;” see Archivo di Stato di Firenze, Guardaroba Medicea 249, C.19.
2. "Dua quadrettini di lapislazzaro a ovati, che in uno depintovi il Nostro Signore nell’orto, del Cigoli e nell’altro uno Cristo in croce con Santa Maria Maddalena a’piedi con una morte e altre figurine, di mano di Alessandro Allori detto il Bronzino, con adornamenti d’ebano filettati d’avorio, n. 2;" see Archivo di Stato di Firenze, Guardaroba Medicea 479, C.11 s.
3. "Due quadretti di lapislazzero aovati, ch’è in uno un Crocifisso e nell’altro Nostro Signore nell’orto, con adornamento d’ebano che li riquadra, filettati d’argento, alti braccia 1/3 larghi braccia 1/4 incirca, ch’è il Crocifisso del Bronzino e l’altro del figliolo, n. 2 (Two pictures of oval lapis lazuli, one which is a Crucifix and the other one Our Lord in the Garden, with ebony adornment that frames them, threaded in silver, 1/3 braccia high, ¼ braccia wide, of which the Crucifix is by Bronzino and the other by the son);" see Archivo di Stato di Firenze, Guardaroba Medicea 657, C.14; The Crucifixion is listed as by Agnolo Bronzino in this inventory, however this is certainly an error as the description of the shape, subject and support all correspond to the present painting. Furthermore, the size recorded in the inventory is very close (a Florentine braccio is 58.8 cm. making the dimensions of the oval as recorded 19.6 cm. by 14.7 cm., compared with 17.1 by 13.3 cm. of the present lot (see Jean-Luc Baroni, Ltd, under Literature).
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