On your next visit to the MFA, look for a Museum treasure in the small but magnificent Gothic Gallery, 218. A spectacular stained-glass window draws you into the room, and as you step to the left, you find yourself before a monumental 14thcentury detached Italian fresco, one of a very few, and perhaps the largest, in an American museum. The artist, known to us only as the Master of the Urbino Coronation, invested The Crucifixion (1360s) with complexity and emotion, accentuating the anguish of Christ’s disciples.
Frescoes are made by applying mineral pigments in water to fresh plaster. Artists paint from the top down, and many large frescoes, including this one, have a tiered effect, reflecting the fact that artists performed this work on scaffolding. There is no room for error; the pigments are chemically bound to the wall (a mistake must be chiseled away).
The Crucifixion depicts Christ flanked on his right by his followers, and on his left by the unenlightened. Above Christ, angels express their sorrow: one spreads his arms, another rends his garments, yet another looks away while gathering Christ’s blood. Mary Magdalene hugs the cross in agony, and, to her left, the beardless Saint John the Evangelist makes a direct emotional appeal to the viewer while indicating with outstretched arms that Mary Magdalene is an exemplary follower of Christ. Notable in this work is the artist’s depiction of the Virgin Mary with loose, flowing hair, a style rare in the art of this period. She has fainted in her grief and is being supported by two figures next to her; one woman tenderly holds the Virgin’s head. Beneath Christ we see Adam’s skull, linking the Crucifixion to the first man; according to some traditions, Christ was crucified on the burial place of Adam.
In the Gothic Gallery, The Crucifixion is installed next to Juan de Montejo’s Tomb Effigy of Alonso de Mera (1592–94), an alabaster statue of a Spanish knight kneeling in prayer, the ensemble evoking a holy space.