One of the leading painters in Rome in the late seventeenth century and the first half of the eighteenth, Trevisani trained in Venice before moving to the papal city, where he worked for Cardinal Flavio Chigi (1631–1693), the nephew of Pope Alexander VII. Following Chigi’s death, Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni (1667–1740)—also from Venice and one of the great art collectors of his day—became his principal patron. (Benedetto Luti's Christ and the Woman of Samaria
, in The Met's collection, may have belonged to Ottoboni.) Through Cardinal Ottoboni Trevisani became associated with the members of the Academia degli Arcadi, which promoted literary reform and counted among its members the great librettist Pietro Metastasio, the composer Arcangelo Corelli, and the architect Filippo Juvara. Corelli owned a work by Trevisani, who also wrote occasional verses (he became a member of the academy in 1712). His paintings thus belong to a movement of classical reform, though their emphasis on chiaroscural effects recalls his Venetian training.The Painting:
The present painting is one of four compositions showing the dead Christ supported by angels. One, in which a foreshortened, full-length figure of the dead Christ is shown on a stone slab mourned by an angel and two putti (Cantor Arts Center, Stanford University), he painted prior to 1698 for Cardinal Ottoboni. Another, showing Christ supported by three angels and two putti, was painted around 1705–10 for Pope Clement XI (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna). In the two remaining pictures (the present one and another in the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery) Christ, shown propped up, is supported by two angels. One of these two is likely to be the work referred to by Lione Pascoli (1674–1744) in a note attached to the manuscript of his biography of Trevisani in the Biblioteca Augusta, Perugia, in which he copied a payment made on March 29, 1707, by the painter Giovanni Fonticelli (1662–1716) for a picture of Christ supported by two angels (see Additional Images, fig. 1):
"Io infrascritto ho ricevuto dal Sig.r Gio. Fonticelli per le mani del Sig.re Marco Marchioni scudi trenta moneta sono per saldo d’un Quadro in tela d’Imperatore rapresentante un Christo morto portato da due Angeli et in Fede, q.to di 29 Marzo 1707: -----------------
Io Fran.co Trevisani m.o pp.a"
Added below: "Per farne menzione in caso che si stampi la vita del S.r Trevisani, essendo il quadro tutto di sua mano, fatto di genio, più per amicitia, che per pagamento, ed ogni virtuoso che l’ha veduto, l’ha stimato opera degna del grande Autore sudetto."
(That is: "I, the above, received thirty scudi from Marco Marchioni on behalf of Giovanni Fonticelli for the payment of a picture on imperial-size canvas [a tela imperatore measured about 100 x 130 cm] representing the dead Christ supported by two angels…29 March 1707"
"This [notice] is for mentioning in case the life of Sig. Trevisani is printed, since the painting is entirely by him, done with genius, more out of friendship than gain, and every knowledgeable person who has seen it judges it a work worthy of a the above-mentioned great master.")
(The notice, referred to by Frank R. DiFederico [Francesco Trevisani, Eighteenth-Century Painter in Rome: A Catalogue Raisonné
, Washington, 1977, p. 54], was transcribed by Xavier Salomon in 2013. A copy is in the Museum files.) Whether Pascoli’s note refers to the picture in Bristol or the present canvas cannot be said with certainty as the provenance of the Metropolitan’s canvas cannot be traced prior to 1779. DiFederico lists two additional paintings: a smaller version on copper of the Vienna picture (Galleria Pallavicini-Rospigliosi, Rome) and a variant on panel (private collection, England).
The subject was ideally suited for private devotion and the contrasting expressions of the angels—one lovingly cradling Christ, whose head rests on the angel’s shoulder; the other, distraught, averting his gaze—are intended as prompts to the prayerful viewer, while the positioning of Christ on the corner of a sarcophagus with his wounds exposed provides a further theme for meditation.
[Keith Christiansen 2014]