After a long period of restoration carried out by the Opifico delle Pietre Dure, Giotto’s Crucifix has been returned to the central nave of the Santa Maria Novella church in Florence. The work is made of tempera, oil and glass on wood, and measures 578x406 cm. During restoration, scholars have been able to confirm that the cross was made originally for the Dominican church. For centuries, it was positioned in the counter façade and thus less visible to both art experts and the parishioners. Only thanks to a large exhibition on Giotto in 1937 did the Crucifix attract the attention it deserved from the art world. However, almost immediately, art critics formed two separate currents of thought on attribution of the cross: Robert Oertel and others claimed it was the work of Giotto, while Richard Offner and others attributed the masterwork to an “unknown maestro”. Offner had also failed to attribute the frescos in the Superior Basilica in Assisi to Giotto.
In the decades that followed, the first hypothesis would be deemed correct—that the Santa Maria Novella Crucifix was indeed Giotto’s. Studies on the crucifix that were carried out during its restoration confirmed this. In fact, the work is characteristic of Giotto’s style: the concreteness of the figures, particularly that of Christ, who seems ‘weighed down’ by death, his muscles tense and stomach sagging. By comparing this work with the artist’s other paintings, and especially his other crucifixes, scholars suspect Giotto may have painted the Santa Maria Novella crucifix in his early years. On the other hand, the iconography is perhaps the most interesting aspect of this artwork. With this cross, Giotto modified the 13th-century model of the Dying Christ on the Cross, exemplified in the artworks of Cimabue and Giunta Pisano. In the works of his predecessors, the bi-dimensional figure of Christ is much more slumped on the cross and the two nails at Christ’s feet are different. Giotto changed this model, after he saw the change in sculptures by Nicola and Giovanni Pisano. In Giotto’s new model of the Dying Christ, he overlapped Christ’s feet, making this the point in which Christ’s physical and moral sufferance converges. He also included the trilingual inscription (in Greek, Hebrew and Latin) at the top of the cross. On the extremities of the arms of the cross, he painted the Virgin Mary and Saint John. At Christ’s feet, there is the image of the hill of Calvary and the skull of Adam.