This emotionally charged depiction of the flagellation of Christ was painted about 1540 as a processional banner for a confraternity, or lay religious brotherhood; the reverse side has a damaged image of the Madonna of Mercy surrounded by its kneeling members. The artist’s sensitivity to light and his brilliantly descriptive brushwork are indebted to the work of Titian, but his interest in vehement expression was inspired by northern prints, especially those by Durer. The picture was almost certainly known by Caravaggio, who must have seen it during his youth, which he spent in the region near Brescia. For an image of the reverse see metmuseum.org/collections.
Romanino painted this double-sided standard, whose original function was to be carried in processions, around 1540 for an unidentified lay confraternity, probably connected with a church in or near the north Italian city of Brescia. The obverse of the banner depicts the flagellation of Christ, whose pale, exposed body stands out from the crowd of his tormentors who surround him. They brandish bunches of twigs, or kneel to tie together more of them, faces concentrated on their tasks. On the reverse the Madonna of Mercy, with Saints Francis and Anthony of Padua behind her, encircles and protects a group of kneeling, robed men holding scourges. At least some of these seem to be portraits of the members of the flagellant confraternity that commissioned the banner, which they would have carried in religious processions. To this end Romanino painted on a thin and very fine support, probably in distemper, a medium of pigments mixed with glue size on a barely primed canvas (the medium has not been scientifically analyzed). Artists were able to work fluidly and quickly in this medium, and the surfaces of paintings in distemper were matte and distinctive in appearance. The medium was often used in northern Italy for works of art on canvas that needed to travel (the canvas could be rolled) or were to be seen from a distance, including organ shutters and banners. Damage at the bottom center of the banner (seen clearly on the reverse) suggests that it was originally attached to a pole at its base, by which it would have been carried. Later it was probably hung permanently in a church, with only one side on view and with the Madonna of Mercy covered by a lining (for the technique and conservation of the painting see Bayer 2003).
Around 1540, Romanino undertook to paint a number of significant works in this medium, all related stylistically. These include organ shutters for the church of San Giorgio in Braida, Verona, and two large canvases of the Adoration of the Magi, possibly also originally shutters, now in SS. Nazaro e Celso in Brescia (for these see Nova 1994, pp. 307–8, no. 78, and pp. 309–10, no. 81; and Romanino: un pittore in rivolta nel Rinascimento italiano. Exh. cat., Castello del Buonconsiglio, Trent. Cinisello Balsamo, Milan, 2006, nos. 31a and b, and 33a and b). In each the artist has devised a composition of tightly packed figures to create a sense of commotion and urgency, and has experimented with strong effects of light and shadow across faces and bodies, adding to a sense of drama. The rough plebeian faces and contemporary clothing may have been inspired by German prints by artists such as Hans Baldung Grien, and the vehement expressivity may have its impetus in northern works known to Romanino as well. By contrast, the composition and treatment of the reverse has more in common with related works by Romanino’s contemporary, Moretto da Brescia.
It is unfortunate that the identity of this Franciscan confraternity has not yet been discovered. The artist is known to have painted a processional banner in 1537 for the members of the confraternity of S. Maria delle Grazie e di San Girolamo, who met in the church of S. Maria delle Grazie, but this was a community of Hieronymites rather than Franciscans (see Romanino: un pittore in rivolta nel Rinascimento italiano, p. 416). There is no indication that the Franciscan confraternity in Brescia, known as the Congregazione francescana dei Capriolanti, which by 1540 was attached to the newly-built church of San Giuseppe, had a work by the artist. It is likely that by the 1580s the painting was hung somewhere conspicuous, as it seems clear that Caravaggio, who grew up in a neighboring town and studied in nearby Milan, saw it and referred to it when painting his Flagellation of Christ for the Dominicans in Naples in 1607 (Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples).
[Andrea Bayer 2013]
private collection, France (until about 1980 or shortly thereafter); [art market, France, by 1985–88; sold to Algranti]; [Algranti & Co., London, 1988–89; sold to MMA]
Alessandro Nova. Letter to Keith Christiansen. July 21, 1989, bases the date of 1540 on the work's similarity to Romanino's organ shutters in San Giorgio in Braida, Verona, of that date; after having seen the work, believes that an assistant may have collaborated with Romanino on the reverse of the picture; mentions documents indicating that Alessandro Romanino collaborated with his cousin Girolamo on a processional banner made for the confraternity of Santa Maria delle Grazie e di San Girolamo, Brescia, in 1537, and others recording the existence of a Franciscan confraternity in Brescia.
Keith Christiansen in "Recent Acquisitions, A Selection: 1989–1990." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 48 (Fall 1990), pp. 36–37, ill. in color (obverse) and black and white (reverse) [repr. in "Master Paintings," exh. cat., Algranti, London, 1994, unpaginated, unnumbered, ill. (color, obverse)], dates it about 1540, "shortly after his fresco cycle in the village of Pisogne"; calls it a processional standard made for a Franciscan lay confraternity and "probably removed from its original location . . . following the Napoleonic suppression of religious orders in Italy"; states that the obverse was painted entirely by Romanino but that the reverse reveals workshop participation; suggests that the figures of the torturers may be influenced by Dürer's prints and that the figure of Christ may be inspired by Hans Baldung Grien's woodcut of Christ at the column; notes that Caravaggio later made reference to the figure of Christ in his painting of the same subject of 1607 (Museo di Capodimonte, Naples), and that Caravaggio's familiarity with the work supports the hypothesis that it was made for a major Brescian church such as San Francesco.
Alessandro Ballarin inLe siècle de Titien: L'âge d'or de la peinture à Venise. Exh. cat., Grand Palais. Paris, 1993, p. 449 [reprinted in Ballarin 2006, vol. 1, p. 275], attributes it to Romanino, mentioning it among works dating between 1540 and 1543.
Alessandro Nova. Girolamo Romanino. Turin, 1994, pp. 57, 308–9, no. 79, ill. front cover of dust jacket (color, obverse), colorpl. X (obverse), figs. 202 (detail, obverse), 203 (reverse), states that the composition of the Flagellation influenced Moretto's late "Christ at the Column" (Museo di Capodimonte, Naples).
Andrea Bayer. "North of the Apennines: Sixteenth-Century Italian Painting in Lombardy and Emilia-Romagna." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 60 (Spring 2003), pp. 23–26, fig. 17 (color, obverse and reverse).
Andrea Bayer inPainters of Reality: The Legacy of Leonardo and Caravaggio in Lombardy. Ed. Andrea Bayer. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2004, p. 110, fig. 53 (obverse) [Italian ed., "Pittori della realtà: le ragioni di una rivoluzione da Foppa e Leonardo a Caravaggio e Ceruti," (Milan), 2004, p. 127].
Nicholas Penny. The Sixteenth Century Italian Paintings. Vol. 1, Paintings from Bergamo, Brescia and Cremona. London, 2004, p. 318.
Andreas Dehmer. Italienische Bruderschaftsbanner des Mittelalters und der Renaissance. PhD diss., Universität Regensburg. Munich, 2004, pp. 144–45, 180, 325, no. 63, ill. (obverse and reverse).
Francesco Frangi inRomanino: un pittore in rivolta nel Rinascimento italiano. Exh. cat., Castello del Buonconsiglio, Trent. Cinisello Balsamo, Milan, 2006, pp. 40, 47 n. 99.
Fabrizio Pietropoli inRomanino: un pittore in rivolta nel Rinascimento italiano. Exh. cat., Castello del Buonconsiglio, Trent. Cinisello Balsamo, Milan, 2006, p. 180.
Alessandro Ballarin. La "Salomè" del Romanino ed altri studî sulla pittura bresciana del Cinquecento. Ed. Barbara Maria Savy. Cittadella, 2006, vol. 1, p. 275; vol. 2, fig. 255.
Andrea Bayer. "Collecting North Italian Paintings at The Metropolitan Museum of Art." A Market for Merchant Princes: Collecting Italian Renaissance Paintings in America. Ed. Inge Reist. University Park, Pa., 2015, p. 89.
The painting is a processional standard made for a Franciscan penitential confraternity. The obverse depicts the flagellation of Christ, and the reverse depicts the Madonna of Mercy protecting members of the confraternity and flanked by Saints Francis (left) and Anthony (right).
Although undocumented, it is possible that the work was made for San Francesco, the major conventual Franciscan church in Brescia, where Romanino worked extensively from 1516 to 1525 and again in 1539. Neither of the two documented, lost banners painted by Romanino can be identified with the MMA work, but it is interesting that one for Santa Maria delle Grazie, Brescia, was made in collaboration with Alessandro Romanino, since the reverse of the MMA painting also includes workshop participation.
The date of about 1540 has been arrived at through comparison with Romanino's organ shutters of that date in San Giorgio in Braida, Verona.