Stunning Restoration Reveals Original Glory of Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s Medieval Crucifix

After three years of meticulous work, a medieval painted Crucifix by Ambrogio Lorenzetti has been restored, unveiling its original splendour as it appeared in the 14th century.

Ambrogio Lorenzetti (c.1290-1348), a prominent Sienese painter known for his early Renaissance masterpieces, created the Crucifix in 1329 or 1330. Now residing at the Convent of San Niccolò al Carmine in Siena, this piece reflects Lorenzetti’s initial influences from Giotto, yet showcases features of his mature style, including elaborate decorations on the tabellone – the body of the cross – and Christ’s halo. Despite missing some parts, it exemplifies the complex carpentry and Gothic design characteristic of Sienese crosses from the 14th and 15th centuries.


The depiction of Christ reveals Lorenzetti’s exceptional skill in handling naturalistic elements. The body’s anatomy is masterfully conveyed in its volume and a delicately nuanced chiaroscuro defines its muscles, effectively underscoring the areas in shadow (the abdomen and the hollow of the arms) versus the lighter colouring of the figure’s complexion. Bright red drops of blood also stand out in stark contrast.

Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Carmine Crucifix, (c. 1329–30). After 2023 restoration. Photo Serge Dominge.

Lorenzetti’s soft, slender brushstrokes define details such as the chestnut hair and beard framing the face, in which we can perceive the final moment before Christ resigns himself to death. The head bends forward, its dramatic effect accentuated by the halo in relief, while the lips are already veiled with a hint of blue and the drooping eyelids poignantly convey suffering.


The restoration addressed significant conservation issues, including extensive damage from 19th-century rainwater infiltration, which spared only the face of Christ due to the protective halo. A previous restoration from 1953 to 1955, led by Cesare Brandi at the Istituto Centrale del Restauro, removed older repainting, revealing the original artwork beneath but resulting in a fragmented appearance.

Detail of Christ’s face after restoration. Photograph by Serge Dominge, courtesy Friends of Florence

Prompted by a 2017-18 exhibition in Siena, Cristina Gnoni, then Director of the Pinacoteca Nazionale, proposed a new restoration project to the Friends of Florence, a U.S. non-profit organization dedicated to preserving Florentine cultural heritage. The project, led by Muriel Vervat, included a comprehensive scientific investigation by IFAC-CNR and ISPC-CNR, deepening the understanding of Lorenzetti’s techniques.

“The restoration of Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s painted Crucifix from the Pinacoteca Nazionale di Siena, so generously funded by the Friends of Florence for the Direzione Regionale Musei della Toscana, was a much needed and very delicate operation designed to recuperate a major masterpiece of 14th century Sienese painting, but at the same time it was important also in critical and methodological terms,” said Stefano Casciu, Regional Director of the Musei della Toscana. “The project brought to light the splendid tooled and gilded fabric in concentric motifs in the background, the wood of the cross, and the sublime body and face of Christ, rendered by Lorenzetti with a subtle yet intense technique still visible in the face, which has thankfully survived almost intact. This complex restoration was performed by Muriel Vervat with her customary, outstanding sensitivity and skill.”

Photographs by Serge Dominge. Courtesy Friends of Florence

Stratigraphic analysis uncovered details such as the use of two kinds of red for Christ’s blood: a basic cinnabar red, overlaid with a costly kermes red lacquer. This pigment choice indicates the high status of the original patron. The restoration also facilitated a deeper study of Lorenzetti’s technique and thoughtful conservation decisions, particularly regarding the gold background and major paint drops on Christ’s body.


In Lorenzetti’s time, the Crucifix would have been illuminated by natural light and candlelight, enhancing the vibrant, changing luminosity of the painting. The gilded background, damaged but now restored, was a sophisticated study of light diffusion, resembling richly decorated fabric with geometrical patterns.

Cleaning revealed the painted wood of the cross, with its naturalistic veining contrasting the precious background decoration. The final result allows for a renewed appreciation of Lorenzetti’s original artistic intent and the narrative quality of the painting.

The Crucifix prior to restoration – Photo by Serge Dominge. Courtesy Friends of Florence

Simonetta Brandolini d’Adda, president of Friends of Florence, highlighted the significance of the restoration: “Siena is a city that has always fascinated our benefactors. This particular restoration, which got under way in the midst of the pandemic, has proven to be an immensely satisfying project. In our capacity as donors, being able to witness the meticulous work of Muriel Vervat, closely supervised by Stefano Casciu, the director of operations, and by Axel Hémery, the Director of the Pinacoteca Nazionale, has been a privilege, allowing us to participate in the conservation and rediscovery of this superb masterpiece. The restoration team and art historians interactively shared decisions throughout the process in a truly creative manner. It made it possible not only to experience the work in all its astonishing beauty once again but also to discover new facts regarding the technique and skill of Ambrogio Lorenzetti, a pillar of 14th-century Sienese art.”



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Top Image: Left: Christ detail before restoration. Middle: Christ detail before puttying during restoration. Right: Christ detail after restoration. Photos by Serge Dominge. Courtesy Friends of Florence