The Crucifixion with the Virgin, Saint John the Baptist and the Magdalen at the Foot of the Cross has an estimate of £4m-6m ahead of auction on July 6 during Christie’s Old Masters sale as part of Classic Week London.
The “pioneering early work” of Fra Angelico was rediscovered and published by Francis Russell, Christie’s UK deputy chairman, in the Burlington Magazine in May 1996.
The tempera on gold-ground poplar panel picture had previously been attributed to Lorenzo Monaco, who Fra Angelico is thought to have trained under.
Russell said: “It was a thrilling moment when I realised I was in the presence of an early masterpiece by Fra Angelico. This panel exemplifies his deep religious conviction. Intensely personal, it also expresses his understanding of the revolutionary achievement of the great Florentine sculptors of his time.
The tenderness with which Christ is depicted is matched by the raw emotion of the Virgin and the pathos of the kneeling Magdalen clinging to the Cross, the thickness of which is revealed by the position of her arms. Every gesture is perfectly weighed. The sensitivity of the painter’s use of colour is evident in the way the blood both of Christ and the pelican above is matched in the robe of the Magdalen. With Fra Angelico nothing was accidental.”
Previous auctions of the artist's works include a panel at Christie’s New York in 2022, at Duke's in Dorset in 2007 (£1.7m hammer price - a house record for the firm) and another in Italy in 2003. There have also been private sales including a work purchased by the Prado in 2016.
The picture marks a “significant evolution in painted perspective: depicting the cross straight on in correct, logical, perspective without the false addition of showing the depth of the right cross post that was standard at the time”.
Originally the centre of a devotional triptych commissioned by an unknown patron, the picture is thought to have been acquired by the 2nd Lord Ashburton who died in 1864 and has subsequently passed by descent.
Born as Guido di Piero (c.1395/1400-1455) the artist became a Dominican friar in the small town of Fiesole outside Florence and adopted the name Fra Giovanni da Fiesole. Posthumously he became known as Fra Angelico or ‘Beato Angelico’ (Blessed Angelic One) and in 1982, Pope John Paul II proclaimed his beatification.
Christie’s described Fra Angelico as “one of the first painters to learn the lessons of contemporary sculpture” and “his impact on Renaissance Florentine painting, and indeed the history of art, cannot be overstated”.
The picture will be on public view in New York from June 10-14, before returning to London for the Classic Week pre-sale exhibition on July 1-6.