Ludovico Carracci (Italian, Bolognese, 1555–1619)
Oil on canvas
37 1/2 x 68 in. (95.3 x 172.7 cm)
Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace and The Annenberg Foundation Gifts; Harris Brisbane Dick, Rogers, and Gwynne Andrews Funds; Pat and John Rosenwald, Mr. and Mrs. Mark Fisch, and Jon and Barbara Landau Gifts; Gift of Mortimer D. Sackler, Theresa Sackler and Family; and Victor Wilbour Memorial, Marquand, The Alfred N. Punnett Endowment, and Charles B. Curtis Funds, 2000 (2000.68)
Painted in about 1582, this astonishing picture is a landmark of the Carracci reform of painting. The figure of Christ, based on a posed model, has been painted with a directness and lack of idealization that sixteenth-century critics found shocking. Christ's right hand is distorted, as though it had been broken as he was taken down from the cross. His left arm, reverently cradled by Mary Magdalene, appears dislocated. The Virgin—shown as a plain, middle-aged woman rather than young and beautiful—has fainted at the sight of her son laid pathetically across her lap.
Ludovico has used light to insist on the event as physically present: it is diffuse around Christ's feet, which are shielded by the winding sheet Saint John raises, and falls with increasing strength on his chest and head. By comparison, the figures of the Virgin, the three Maries, and Saint John are notably stylized and give the composition a jarring note. Experimentation with the means of representation rather than an abstract sense of harmony and beauty characterizes Ludovico's work at this stage. The Carracci reform was based on precisely such extreme and novel experiments that questioned the idealizing premise of Renaissance art. This innovative work belonged to Alessandro Tanari, papal treasurer in Bologna. At the time of his death in 1639 he owned eleven works by Ludovico.