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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Kade

The Crucifixion - Santa Maria delle Grazie - Milan, Italy

“Crucifixion” by Giovanni Donato da Montorfano depicts the Crucifixion of Jesus.

Giovanni Donato da Montorfano (c. 1460–1503) was an Italian painter of the Renaissance who was born, lived, and worked in Milan.

Giovanni Donato comes from a family of painters. His grandfather, Abramo, and father, Alberto da Montorfano worked in the Milan Cathedral as painters and were members of the Milan painter's guild. Both Giovanni Donato and his brother Vincenzo were pupils of their father.

Giovanni da Montorfano worked in the Milan Cathedral in 1452 and 1454, and in Genoa from 1457;

Giovanni Donato (di Alberto) da Montorfano, who may have been active from the late 1470's, is best known for his fresco of the Crucifixion (signed and dated 1495; Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan). It is likely that Giovanni Donato's brother Vincenzo (di Alberto) da Montorfano was also a painter and that the pair first worked with their father Alberto. One of Giovanni Donato's three sons, Alberto (di Giovanni Donato) da Montorfano was also a painter, though none of his works has been identified.

Both Giovanni Donato and his brother Vincenzo were raised and taught by their father to continue on the family tradition of painting. Several frescoes in San Pietro in Gessate, Milan, in the chapels of St. Anthony, St. John the Baptist and the Virgin, are attributed to Giovanni Donato, but their dating and attribution are problematic; his hand is most plausibly seen in the St. Anthony frescoes. Frescoes of scenes from the Life of St. Catherine in Santa Maria delle Grazie, long attributed to him, have recently been tentatively reassigned to Cristoforo de Mottis. Four fresco fragments of saints (Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, Milan) are from around the same time as the Crucifixion.

Giovanni Donato is best known for his fresco depicting the Crucifixion (1495) in the refectory of the convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie.. It is painted on the wall facing Da Vinci's masterpiece of The Last Supper. This fresco is said to have some of the figures of the Duke and his family painted by Leonardo. The room was used for communal meals of the Convent, and both paintings were commissioned as part of a plan of renovations to the church and its convent buildings by Leonardo’s patron Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan.

Donato’s painting is a traditional fresco and the colors are still vibrant all these 500+ years later.

Leonardo was experimenting with a new technique, using a mix of oil and tempera, and the painting started to deteriorate within his own lifetime.

At the foot of the cross is Mary Magdalene, who is hugging the cross, Saint Dominic, founder of the Dominicans is on the left of Mary and Saint Thomas Aquinas on the right, both kneeling with their hands together in prayer. Also depicted are other saints and leaders from the Dominican order with Jerusalem in the background.

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