Crucifixion and Ascension of St. John the Evangelist

Crucifixion and Ascension of St. John the Evangelist

Master of Faenza

Master of Faenza
c. 1280
tempera on wood
35 x 28 cm
source of the artwork

bequest of the Ospedale Civile, Faenza, 1884

short description

Edward Garrison was the first to coin the name “Master of Faenza” in 1949 precisely on the strength of this small panel in the Pinacoteca. Painted on two superimposed registers, the panel depicts the Crucifixion with St. Peter in the upper register and the Ascension of St. John the Evangelist in the lower. The latter episode is taken from an apocryphal gnostic text known as the Acts of John, although cholars have often mistaken it for Christ’s Descent into Limbo. The scene actually portrays the moment in which St. John the Evangelist prays to Christ that he receive him in heaven, after asking two men to dig him the grave into which he has had himself lowered.

Most of the attributions assigned to this artist working at the turn of the 13th century are generic and invariably tend to focus on his Emilia-Romagna origin and on the closeness of his style to that of the illuminations then being produced in Bologna.

inventary n°

Garrison was the first to coin the name “Master of Faenza” in 1949, precisely on the strength of this small panel in the Pinacoteca Comunale with scenes painted in two superimposed registers divided by a red frame that appears to be supported by two small, foreshortened corbels. The figures in the upper scene tread on the frame to create an effect of depth and a hint of spatial realism. In the Crucifixion, painted in the upper register, Christ on the cross is surrounded by the three Marys, St. John the Evangelist and St. Peter. The fact that St. Peter’s presence here is out of context suggests that it may be a reference to the patron who commissioned the panel.

Scholars have invariably interpreted the Ascension of St. John the Evangelist in the lower register as Christ’s Descent into Limbo 1 . The scene – which, on the contrary, allows us to identify St. John the Evangelist if for no other reason than that he is shown wearing the same clothes as in the Crucifixion above – is in fact one of the apocryphal stories that first appeared in the Acts of John (Acta Ioannis), a text already in circulation in the 2nd century AD 2 . The story goes that St. John the Evangelist asked some men to dig him a deep grave and that, when they had finished, he had himself lowered into the grave, raised his arms to heaven and prayed to Christ to receive his soul. To the onlookers’ astonishment, John was promptly taken up bodily into heaven. The two figures behind Christ – who are not mentioned in the text – may be the saints welcoming John into Paradise, or else they may appear in some currently unknown medieval variant in the Acts.

Ever since the first attempts at attribution made by Van Marle (1923) who detected certain Gothic elements in the work, scholars have invariably offered extremely generic definitions of the artist’s personality. He has almost always been said to have worked at the turn of the 13th century and to have been a native of Romagna (Servolini 1944; Archi 1957), of Emilia-Romagna (Tambini 1982) or of Bologna (Garrison 1949), scholars also highlighting his closeness to the illuminators then working in that city 3 .

Luciano Cuppini was the first to associate the Faenza panel with three small panels in the Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna: the Disrobing of Christ (stolen in 1963), the Deposition from the Cross and the Lamentation over the Dead Christ 4 . The three panels, in which the decoration of the haloes is identical and which are of the same size 5 , would thus have formed part of single six-panel altar frontal, with the Faenza panel in the middle, but excluding from the group the Nativity (inv. no. 310, Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna) which is considered to be by the Master of Forlì. Giovanni Valagussa (2002), for his part, rejects the hypothesis 6 , highlighting the fact that the Faenza panel, in which the artist appears to be aware of Giunta Pisano’s later work, was painted in a more mature style than the Bologna panels (its stylistic proximity to the work of Giunta Pisano has also been underscored by Corbara 1951; Tambini 1982, p. 48; Valagussa 1995, p. 146; Giorgi 2004) and should therefore be dated to some time around the 1280s 7 .

Anna Tambini (2006) has suggested, albeit without finding any confirmation for her suggestion, that the panel may have come from the old Augustinian church of San Giovanni Evangelista in Faenza, which was built between 1266 and 1290. At an unspecified date, the panel was shorn of a few centimeters on its upper and lower edges, a detail particularly noticeable in the figures of the grieving angels in the Crucifixion scene.

ARCHI 1957
A. Archi, La Pinacoteca di Faenza, Faenza 1957, p. 19

S. Casadei, Pinacoteca di Faenza, Bologna 1991, p. 28

A. Corbara, Scheda per la Soprintendenza alla Galleria di Bologna, 1951

CUPPINI 1951-1952
L. Cuppini, “Aggiunte al Maestro di Forlì e di Faenza”, Rivista d’Arte, 1951-1952, pp. 15-22

E. B. Garrison, Italian Romanesque Panel Painting. An illustrated index, Florence 1949, p. 17, 114, 236, n. 294, 664

S. Giorgi, in Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna, I, Dal Duecento a Francesco Francia, ed. J. Bertini, G. P. Cammarota, D. Scaglietti Kelescian, Bologna 2004, pp. 48-51, entry 5a-d

F. Lollini, Ai tempi di Umiltà (circa 1230-1320) in Il Polittico della Beata Umiltà di Pietro Lorenzetti, l’arte di raccontare una santa, ed. R. Bartoli, D. Parenti, Livorno 2023, p. 55

L. Servolini, La pittura gotica romagnola, Forlì 1944, pp. 11-12

A. Tambini, Pittura dall’Alto Medioevo al Tardogotico nel territorio di Faenza e Forlì, Faenza 1982, pp. 45-48

A. Tambini, Storia delle arti figurative a Faenza, I, Le origini, Faenza 2006, pp. 74-88

G. Valagussa, in Il Trecento Riminese, Maestri e botteghe tra Romagna e Marche, exhibition catalogue (Rimini, Museo della Città, 20 August 1995 – 7 January 1996), ed. D.Benati, Milan 1995, pp. 146-151, entry no. 2

G. Valagussa, in Il Trecento adriatico, Paolo Veneziano e la pittura tra Oriente e Occidente, exhibition catalogue (Rimini, Castel Sismondo, 19 August – 29 December 2002), ed. F. Flores d’Arcais, G. Gentili, Milan 2002, p. 120, entry no. 9

R. Van Marle, The development of the Italian Schools of Painting, I, from the 6th until the end of the 13th century, The Hague 1923, p. 360

The images are the property of the Pinacoteca Comunale di Faenza. For the use of the images, please write to

written by
Piero Offidani
  1. Van Marle 1923, I, p.  360; Servolini 1944, p. 12; Garrison 1949, p. 114; Archi 1957, p. 19; Casadei 1991, p. 29; Valagussa 1995, p. 146, right up to Valagussa in 2002, p. 120[]
  2. J. Hamburger, St.John the Divine, Berkeley, 2002, p. 273, n.133; G. Kaftal, Iconography of the Saints in Tuscan Painting, Florence, 1952, p. 570[]
  3. Servolini 1944; Tambini 1982; Giorgi 2004; Lollini 2023, p. 55[]
  4. inv. no. 310; first attributed to the same master by Garrison 1949, p. 236, n. 664[]
  5. Cuppini 1951-1952; a hypothesis confirmed by Tambini 1982; Tambini 2006, p. 85[]
  6. followed in this by Giorgi 2004 and Lollini 2023, p. 55[]
  7. Valagussa 2002; Lollini 2023, p. 55; Tambini 2006, p. 83[]