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Acquired for the nation

Issued April 2016

The National Gallery allocated Signorelli’s 'Man on a Ladder' under the Acceptance-in-Lieu scheme

Man on a Ladder by Luca Signorelli, one of the most important central Italian Renaissance painters and a contemporary of Raphael and Michelangelo, has been allocated to the National Gallery under the Acceptance-in-Lieu scheme.

Originally part of a vast altarpiece depicting the 'Lamentation at the Foot of the Cross' commissioned in 1504 for the church of Sant’Agostino in Matelica, a town in central Italy, the large panel was subsequently cut into separate pieces for sale to different purchasers. 'Man on a Ladder' is one of six known fragments of this altarpiece. The others are currently housed in museums and collections around the world, including the Museo Civico, Bologna, the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, and private collections in Genoa, Rome and England. 'Man on a Ladder' is the only fragment that can be seen in a UK public collection.

'Man on a Ladder' depicts the figure of a man who carries a pair of pliers which have been used to remove the nails from the crucified Christ. It is thought to come from the upper section of the now dismembered altarpiece. The full composition showed the dead Christ at the foot of the cross, mourned by his mother and his followers. The haloed head of Saint John the Evangelist is just visible at the lower edge of 'Man on a Ladder'.

Born in Cortona, a cousin of the artist and art historian Giorgio Vasari and a pupil of Piero della Francesca, Luca Signorelli has been largely forgotten by art historians of the 20th and 21st centuries. In his day he was an extremely successful painter, celebrated for his skill in depicting the human body and his mastery of foreshortening. The painting is a superb example of the unique figurative style for which Signorelli was famed.

The first documented owner of 'Man on a Ladder' – the arts patron and politician William Graham loaned the painting to the Pre-Raphaelite painter and designer Sir Edward Burne-Jones, who had a special interest in the works of Signorelli.  

'Man on a Ladder' joins a group of eight paintings by Signorelli in the National Gallery. With this acquisition, which shows Signorelli’s extraordinary talents as a painter of the human body in complex poses, the Gallery can now represent this important Renaissance painter’s inventive talents at their best. 'Man on a Ladder' also plays a key role in demonstrating the development of the representation of the human figure in Renaissance painting, constituting a bridge between 15th-century artists like Perugino and Piero della Francesca and those of the High Renaissance at the beginning of the 16th century.

Caroline Campbell, National Gallery Jacob Rothschild Head of the Curatorial Department said:

“Luca Signorelli is one of the most underappreciated artists of the Italian Renaissance. This muscular figure demonstrates the two qualities central to his work: his mastery of design and interest in the human form.”

National Gallery Director, Dr Gabriele Finaldi said:

“Thanks to the allocation to the National Gallery of ‘Man on a Ladder’ through the Acceptance in Lieu scheme, the public can now see the full range of Signorelli’s artistic achievement on show in Trafalgar Square.”

'Man on a Ladder' can now be seen in Room 60 of the Sainsbury Wing hanging alongside other important Signorelli paintings in the collection such as The Adoration of the Shepherds and The Holy Family.

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Notes to Editors

Luca Signorelli (about 1440/50–1523)
'Man on a Ladder' 
Oil on wood
88.3 × 52 cm
© The National Gallery, London

Luca Signorelli (about 1440/50–1523). Born in Cortona, and taught by Piero della Francesca, Signorelli was one of the most important Central Italian painters of the later 15th and early 16th century. He was active in Cortona, Arezzo, Florence, Rome, Orvieto and other Italian towns. His chief work is a series of frescoes in the cathedral at Orvieto. The artist and art historian Giorgio Vasari (15111574), who was his first cousin once removed, wrote a well-informed account of his life, in which he praised Signorelli’s qualities stating that he ‘opened to the majority of artists the way to the final perfections of art’ represented by the achievements of Leonardo, Raphael and Michelangelo.

The Acceptance-in-Lieu (AIL) Scheme enables taxpayers to transfer important works of art and other heritage objects into public ownership while paying Inheritance Tax, or one of its earlier forms. The taxpayer is given the full open market value of the item, which is then allocated to a public museum, archive or library. More information at

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