The Crucifixion with Saints and a Donor

Joos van Cleve (Netherlandish, Cleve ca. 1485–1540/41 Antwerp) and a collaborator

ca. 1520
Oil on wood
Shaped top: central panel, painted surface 38 3/4 x 29 1/4 in. (98.4 x 74.3 cm); each wing, painted surface 39 3/4 x 12 7/8 in. (101 x 32.7 cm)
Credit Line:
Bequest of George Blumenthal, 1941
Accession Number:
  • Gallery Label

    In this splendid triptych the talents of a landscape specialist have been combined with those of the figurative painter Joos van Cleve. The setting for the Crucifixion, witnessed by the Virgin, Saint John and the donor with his patron Saint Paul, is a vast landscape whose style is indebted to Joachim Patinir (represented in the adjacent gallery). The panoramic vista unifies the interior. On the left wing are Saints John the Baptist and Catherine, on the right Anthony of Padua and Nicholas of Tolentino. The latter two suggest that the altarpiece was an Italian commission.

    The frame is original but regilt.

  • Catalogue Entry

    From its earliest mention by Wilhelm von Bode (1889), this triptych has been considered a major work by the Antwerp painter Joos van Cleve (earlier known as the Master of the Death of the Virgin). The open view of the altarpiece represents the Crucifixion witnessed by the Virgin Mary, Saint John, and the kneeling donor with his patron Saint Paul (identified by his attribute, the sword). On the inside left wing are Saints John the Baptist and Catherine; on the right wing are Saints Anthony of Padua and Nicholas of Tolentino. Although the regilt frame is original to the triptych, the paintings of the exterior wings are no longer extant. The altarpiece was recorded in the late nineteenth century in the Del Vecchio collection in Genoa; this and the fact that Saints Anthony of Padua and Nicholas of Tolentino are venerated especially in Italy has led to the assumption that the triptych was painted for a Genoese patron. Hoogewerff (1928), who believed that Joos traveled to Genoa around 1512–15, assumed that the triptych was made there. But as Hand (2004) pointed out, the majority of the Italians in Antwerp between 1488 and 1513 were Genoese and the altarpiece could well have been made there. This work clearly derives from Joos’s Crucifixion altarpiece of around 1515 (Capodimonte, Naples), and the Metropolitan example is likely to have been painted around 1520.

    The three panels are unified by a vast landscape that serves as the setting for the figures that are placed uniformly across the foreground plane. The style of the landscape is indebted to the most popular painter of that genre at the beginning of the sixteenth century, Joachim Patinir. Produced with looser brushwork than that found in the figures, this portion of the painting was most likely executed by a landscape specialist who collaborated with Joos. Technical examination of the painting supports this theory (Ainsworth 1998). X-radiographs show that the reserve areas left for the figures and the broadly brushed-in landscape features abut but do not overlap. Furthermore, there is underdrawing in Joos’s typical style for the figures but no preliminary sketch for the landscape. Many of the details of the landscape—castles, farmhouses, ships—are also found in other paintings by Joos van Cleve, and indicate that Joos’s collaborators used patterns of motifs that could be rearranged for the backgrounds of different paintings.


  • Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings

    Inscription: Inscribed (on cross): ·INRI·

  • Provenance

    Signor Del Vecchio, Genoa (by 1889); Adolf Thiem, San Remo (by 1909); George Blumenthal, New York (by 1916–d. 1941; cat., vol. 1, 1926, pl. XLVIII)

  • Exhibition History

    Palm Beach. Society of the Four Arts. "Early European Paintings," January 7–30, 1949, no. 5.

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "From Van Eyck to Bruegel: Early Netherlandish Painting in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," September 22, 1998–February 21, 1999, no. 95.

  • References

    Wilhelm von Bode. "H. Toman. Jan van Scorel und die Geheimnisse der Stilkritik, 1888." Repertorium für Kunstwissenschaft 12 (1889), p. 75 n. 2, considers this altarpiece, then with the lawyer Del Vechio in Genoa, a major work by the Master of the Death of the Virgin.

    [E.] Firmenich–Richartz in Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler. 3, Leipzig, 1909, p. 217, lists it in the collection of Adolf Thiem, San Remo, as a work of Joos van Cleve's early period and relates it to the Crucifixion triptych by him in Naples [Museo di Capodimonte].

    Max J. Friedländer. Von Eyck bis Bruegel: Studien zur Geschichte der Niederländischen Malerei. Berlin, 1916, p. 186, lists it with works by Joos, formerly in the Thiem collection.

    Stella Rubinstein. "Two Pictures by Joos van Cleve (Master of the Death of the Virgin)." Art in America 4, no. 4 (October, 1916), pp. 343, 351–52, ill., dates it about the same time as Joos's Crucifixion triptych in Naples; notes that the landscape in the background is in the manner of Patinir and compares it to the landscape in Joos's Adoration of the Magi in the Kaiser Friedrich Museum, Berlin [now Gemäldegalerie].

    Martin Conway. The Van Eycks and Their Followers. London, 1921, pp. 403, 407, dates this altarpieces and Joos's Naples Crucifixion early in his career; notes that it imitates Quentin Massys's Crucifixion in the Liechtenstein Collection [now National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa] and comments that the lanscape is in Massys's style as well; discusses it among other works by Joos which seem to have been painted for Genoese patrons, possibly in Genoa itself.

    Ludwig von Baldass. Joos van Cleve, der Meister des Todes Mariä. Vienna, 1925, pp. 34–35, no. 103, lists it among works ascribed to Joos by others, but unknown to the author even in reproduction.

    Stella Rubinstein-Bloch. "Paintings—Early Schools." Catalogue of the Collection of George and Florence Blumenthal. 1, Paris, 1926, unpaginated, pl. 48.

    G. J. Hoogewerff. "Joachim Patinir en Italie." Revue d'art 29 (July–December 1928), pp. 123–24, lists it with a group of five altarpieces by Joos with Genoese provenances; dates these works before 1515 and concludes that the artist was in Genoa between 1512–15.

    The Encyclopædia Britannica. 13, 14th ed. London, 1929, p. 147.

    Max J. Friedländer. "Joos van Cleve, Jan Provost, Joachim Patenier." Die altniederländische Malerei. 9, Berlin, 1931, p. 128, no. 12, dates it about 1520.

    Pierre Bautier in location unknown, Antwerp. Trésor de l'art flamand du moyen age au XVIIIme siècle: Mémorial de l'exposition d'art flamand ancien à Anvers 1930. Paris, 1932, vol. 1, p. 55 n. 2, mentions it along with four other pictures with a Genoese provenance made at different periods of Joos' s career; suggests that Joos was in the city between 1512 and 1515.

    G. J. Hoogewerff. Vlaamsche kunst en Italiaansche Renaissance. Mechelen, [1935?], pp. 104–5, hypothesizes that Joos went to Genoa twice, between 1512–16 and between 1525–28; dates the MMA Crucifixion triptych to his first stay there.

    Harry B. Wehle and Margaretta Salinger. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Early Flemish, Dutch and German Paintings. New York, 1947, pp. 133–35, ill., date it about 1515; note that the thin body of Jesus and the fluttering loin-cloth relate to a type used earlier by Rogier van der Weyden; ascribe the elaborate landscape to another hand, a close imitator of Patinir or even Patinir himself.

    Erik Larsen. Les primitifs flamands au Musée Metropolitain de New York. Utrecht, 1960, p. 91, attributes it to Joos van Cleve, about 1511; notes that the figure of Christ derives from the Rogier by way of Quentin Massys; observes that the landscape, which resembles the compositions of Patinir, is not by Joos.

    Goffredo J. Hoogewerff. "Pittori fiamminghi in Liguria nel secolo XVI." Commentari 12, no. 3 (July–September 1961), p. 187.

    Max J. Friedländer et al. "Joos van Cleve, Jan Provost, Joachim Patenier." Early Netherlandish Painting. 9, part 1, New York, 1972, p. 53, no. 12, pl. 27.

    Elga Lanc. "Die religiösen Bilder des Joos van Cleve." PhD diss., Universität Wien, 1972, pp. 98, 109–10, 120 n. 3, 127, 142 n. 1, 145 n. 2, fig. 86, dates it about 1525.

    Elisabeth Heller Universität München. Das altniederländische Stifterbild. Munich, 1976, p. 181, no. 65, identifies the figure between the cross and the patron as "Nikodemus (?)," who was venerated as a saint in Italy, hence the possibility that the patron was Italian.

    John Oliver Hand. "Joos van Cleve: The Early and Mature Works." PhD diss., Princeton University, 1978, pp. 174–76, 178, 180, 300, no. 41, fig. 49, dates the painting to the early 1520s; discusses it in the context of collaboration between Joos and his assistants; attributes the landscape to an artist in Joos's studio who was familiar with Patinir's landscape style and handled the paint rather loosely and rapidly, creating atmospheric impressionism; notes that the figure at the foot of the cross, whom he identifies as Joseph of Arimathea, repeats, in reverse, the pose of the Magdalen in the Naples panel; dismisses as too speculative the hypothesis that the picture was comissioned for a Genoese patron or that Joos was in Genoa at a very early date.

    Maryan W. Ainsworth. "Underdrawings in Paintings by Joos van Cleve at the Metropolitan Museum of Art." Le dessin sous-jacent dans la peinture. Colloque 4, Louvain-la-Neuve, 1982, pp. 161–66 n. 4, pls. 75–79 (the painting and reflectograms), dates it about 1520, or after the Naples altarpiece of 1516; sees the underdrawing as consistent with the direct, spontaneous and confident style found in Joos's other paintings in the MMA; notes that "the landscape shows no underdrawing, adding evidence for the hypothesis that it is by a different hand".

    Trudy E. Bell. "Technology: Seeing into the Past." Connoisseur 210 (June 1982), pp. 140–41, ill. (detail and infrared reflectogram detail).

    Maryan W. Ainsworth. "New Insights into Joos van Cleve as a Draughtsman." Essays in Northern European Art Presented to Egbert Haverkamp-Begemann on His Sixtieth Birthday. Doornspijk, The Netherlands, 1983, p. 16.

    Larry Silver. The Paintings of Quinten Massys with Catalogue Raisonné. Montclair, N.J., 1984, p. 179, discuses this triptych among works by Joos, in which he draws upon compositions by Quinten Massys, such as his Crucifixion triptych in the Museum Mayer van den Bergh, Antwerp; considers Joos's "theatrical, agitated, even melodramatic" expression of grief a feature of the emerging Antwerp Mannerist idiom.

    Guy Bauman. "Early Flemish Portraits, 1425–1525." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 43 (Spring 1986), pp. 30–33, ill. in color (overall and detail), comments on compositional similarities in Rogier van der Weyden's Crucifixion triptych (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna); relates the more personal and direct role of the patron saint and the distanced placement of the Virgin and Saint John in our altarapiece to a change in religious sensibility that anticipates the onset of the Protestant Reformation; identifies the figure at the foot of the cross as Saint Paul, the donor's patron saint; notes that Paul was not a common name in Flanders, and that the Italian provenance and the presence of two Italian saints in the right wing suggest the donor was an Italian with business in Antwerp; notes that the scalloped shape of the top edge of the triptych became fashionable during the first decades of the 16th century.

    Cécile Scailliérez. Joos van Cleve au Louvre. Paris, 1991, pp. 80, 82–83, no. 110, ill., notes that the Entombment scene in the background of the central panel corresponds exactly to the same scene in Joos's Altarpiece of the Lamentation (the Schmitgen Triptych of 1524, Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt); discusses the question of one or more trips to Genoa by Joos.

    Maryan W. Ainsworth, Selected by Guy C. Bauman, and Walter A. Liedtke in Flemish Paintings in America: A Survey of Early Netherlandish and Flemish Paintings in the Public Collections of North America. Antwerp, 1992, pp. 112–15, no. 31, ill. in color (overall and details), as by Joos and a workshop assistant; dates it about 1520–25; observes that "the Patinir-like panorama landscape," which is executed apparently by a different hand, is similar to landscapes in numerous paintings from Joos's workshop.

    Maryan W. Ainsworth. "A Meeting of Sacred and Secular Worlds." From Van Eyck to Bruegel: Early Netherlandish Painting in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1998, pp. 32, 36, 58, 143, 209, 211, 356–60, no. 95, ill. (color, overall and details)
    , dates it about 1520 calling it a variant of Joos's Crucifixion triptych in Naples; ascribes the landscape, with a variety of interspersed biblical subjects and scenes of daily life, to a collaborator, probably a follower of Patinir; based on its "imposing size," suggests it was commisioned for a family chapel in a church.

    Olga Kotková. "Joos van Cleve, Triptych with the Adoration of the Magi in the National Gallery in Pragiue. An Example of Workshop Practice." La peinture dans les pays-bas au 16e siècle [Colloque pour l'étude du dessin sous-jacent et de la technologie de la peinture]. Colloque 12, Louvain-la-Neuve, 1999, p. 93.

    John Oliver Hand. Joos van Cleve: The Complete Paintings. New Haven, 2004, pp. 56–57, 71, 137, 185, no. 40, fig. 55 (central panel), as one of several altarpieces by Joos from the early 1520s; in reference to the landscape here, considers it likely that Joos had a landscape specialist in his entourage, one that may have trained in Patinir's shop.

    Gianluca Zanelli in "Dalle origini al Concilio di Trento." San Nicola da Tolentino nell'arte: corpus iconografico. 1, Tolentino, 2005, pp. 403–4, no. 336, colorpl. LXXIV, ill. p. 404.

    Michael Rohlmann. "The Annunciation by Joos Ammann in Genoa: Context, Function and Metapictorial Quality." Cultural Exchange Between the Low Countries and Italy (1400–1600). Turnhout, Belgium, 2007, p. 26.

    Peter van den Brink in Joos van Cleve, Leonardo des Nordens. Exh. cat., Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum, Aachen. Stuttgart, 2011, p. 17.

    Maria Clelia Galassi in Joos van Cleve, Leonardo des Nordens. Exh. cat., Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum, Aachen. Stuttgart, 2011, pp. 65, 70, 77, fig. 49 (color).

    John Oliver Hand (EP approved) in Joos van Cleve, Leonardo des Nordens. Exh. cat., Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum, Aachen. Stuttgart, 2011, pp. 46–48.

    Micha Leeflang in Joos van Cleve, Leonardo des Nordens. Exh. cat., Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum, Aachen. Stuttgart, 2011, p. 144.

    Cécile Scailliérez in Joos van Cleve, Leonardo des Nordens. Exh. cat., Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum, Aachen. Stuttgart, 2011, p. 89.

    Alice Taatgen in Joos van Cleve, Leonardo des Nordens. Exh. cat., Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum, Aachen. Stuttgart, 2011, p. 160, under no. 5.

    Gianluca Zanelli in Joos van Cleve, Leonardo des Nordens. Exh. cat., Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum, Aachen. Stuttgart, 2011, pp. 77–78.

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History