Art/ Collection/ Art Object

The Man of Sorrows

Michele Giambono (Michele Giovanni Bono) (Italian, active Venice 1420–62)
ca. 1430
Tempera and gold on wood
Overall, with engaged frame, 21 5/8 x 15 1/4 in. (54.9 x 38.7 cm); painted surface 18 1/2 x 12 1/4 in. (47 x 31.1 cm)
Credit Line:
Rogers Fund, 1906
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 627
Depicted upright in his tomb, his hands extended to display his wounds, the blood and crown of thorns rendered in relief, this exquisitely rendered Jesus has been conceived as a focus for meditation. A diminutive Saint Francis receives the Stigmata and becomes a surrogate for the viewer. Elaborately framed, with the reverse painted to imitate porphyry—a stone with imperial associations—the picture would have been a precious object of devotion, perhaps for a Franciscan friar. The pattern on the deteriorated background derives from Islamic textiles.
#2639: Investigations: The Man of Sorrows, Part 1
#2640: Investigations: The Man of Sorrows, Part 2
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Although a virtual contemporary of Jacopo Bellini, Giambono represents the final flowering of Late Gothic painting in Venice. It was the combined presence in Venice of Michelino da Besozzo, Gentile da Fabriano, and Pisanello that provided the reference points for his refined style, with its combination of decorative richness and acute description of flora and fauna. The MMA painting is a relatively early work and may date to around 1430. It shows the dead Christ standing erect in a sarcophagus that is set before a cross, in which are embedded three nails. His arms are extended so as to exhibit the bleeding wounds in his hands to the viewer/worshipper (in most depictions of the Christ as the Man of Sorrows the hands are shown folded in front of his chest). A gold embroidered cloth—interpreted by Belting (1986) as the corporal used on the altar for display of the Eucharist—is draped over the edges of the sarcophagus, the front side of which is inlaid with panels of red and green marble, suggestive of an altar (Seubert 2011). These details have the effect of emphasizing the sacral nature of the image. The copious blood issuing from Christ’s wounds as well as from the three nails in the cross—the use of three as opposed to four nails to crucify Christ had been a topic of much debate in the Middle Ages—is rendered in relief, as is the crown of thorns, emphasizing the physical, tactile quality of these details presented for meditation. Behind the sarcophagus is a diminutive figure of Saint Francis, his hands clasped in prayer, his tormented face turned towards Christ. Red lines connect the wounds in Christ’s hands and side with those on Saint Francis. Land (1980) explains that, "In the Metropolitan panel Giambono presents a parallel between the sorrowful Christ and the suffering saint and . . . alludes to both the spiritual and physical transformation of the saint into the likeness of Christ." The background, which has suffered a good deal and is now much abraded and faded, is decorated in gold with an intricate pattern that includes phoenixes—a bird believed to rise from its own ashes and thus symbolic of the Resurrection. The pattern is similar to Islamic textiles. The elaborate frame is original (Newbery and Kanter 1990) and the reverse of the panel, which is not hinged and was always independent, is painted to simulate porphyry, a stone with Imperial associations.

Quite evidently this was a deluxe picture for private devotion, most probably for someone associated with the Franciscan order. A later, less refined version, lacking the Saint Francis and many other details, is in the Museo d’Arte Medioevale e Moderna, Padua. A copy of the MMA painting is also known (Bowron 1990). Similar in character and quality is a depiction of Veronica’s Veil, in which Christ’s head is shown as though silhouetted against a cloth rather than imprinted on it (Pinacoteca Malaspina, Pavia).

[Keith Christiansen 2012]
Inscription: Inscribed (above halo): ·IN:RI·
Signora Alba Barbato di Naduri, Naples (until 1906; sold [on behalf of her father, she claims] to MMA)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Venetian Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum," May 1–September 2, 1974, no catalogue.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Italian Renaissance Frames," June 5, 1990–January 6, 1991, no. 4.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Byzantium: Faith and Power (1261–1557)," March 23–July 4, 2004, no. 294.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Art in Renaissance Venice, 1400–1515: Paintings and Drawings from the Museum's Collections," November 8, 2011–February 5, 2012, no catalogue.

Roger Fry. Letters. January–March 1906 [published in Ref. Sutton 1972, vol. 1, letter no. 173, p. 252], mentions this picture as being offered to the Museum as a Fra Angelico and attributes it to Giambono.

William Rankin. "Corriere da Nuova York." Rassegna d'arte 8 (March 1908), p. IV, mentions a "delightful small panel" by Giambono in the Metropolitan Museum.

Laudedeo Testi. "Michele Giambono." Rassegna d'arte 11 (June 1911), pp. 93–94, ill., calls it "Christ in the Sepulcher and the Stigmatization of Saint Francis," tentatively attributes it to Giambono, and dates it around 1440; notes a late, mediocre copy in the Museo Civico, Padua.

Tancred Borenius, ed. A History of Painting in North Italy: Venice, Padua, Vicenza, Verona, Ferrara, Milan, Friuli, Brescia, from the Fourteenth to the Sixteenth Century.. By J[oseph]. A[rcher]. Crowe and G[iovanni]. B[attista]. Cavalcaselle. 2nd ed. [1st ed. 1871]. London, 1912, vol. 1, p. 15 n. 1, attributes it to Giambono.

Roger Fry. "Exhibition of Pictures of the Early Venetian School at the Burlington Fine Arts Club—I." Burlington Magazine 20 (March 1912), p. 352.

L[ionello]. V[enturi]. "Bollettino Bibliografico." L'arte 15 (1912), p. 400, considers it an imitation of the panel in Padua.

Laudedeo Testi. "A proposito di Michele Giambono." Rassegna d'arte 13 (February 1913), pp. iii–v, discusses Venturi's remarks [see Ref. 1912] and defends the attribution to Giambono.

Laudedeo Testi. La storia della pittura veneziana. Vol. 2, Il divenire. Bergamo, 1915, pp. 29, 34–35, pl. 3.

Bernard Berenson. Venetian Painting in America: The Fifteenth Century. New York, 1916, pp. 5–6 n. 1, attributes the MMA picture as well as a variant in the collection of Horace Morison, Boston [now Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Mass.] to a contemporary of Giambono in Ancona or elsewhere in the Marches who he describes as a better draftsman and painter; calls the Padua picture an "independent original by Giambono".

G. Fiocco. "Michele Giambono." Venezia: studi di arte e storia. Vol. 1, Milan, 1920, pp. 214–15, ill., as by Giambono.

Raimond van Marle. The Development of the Italian Schools of Painting. Vol. 7, Late Gothic Painting in North Italy. The Hague, 1926, p. 363, sees the influence of Gentile da Fabriano in the fine draftsmanship of this panel and the Padua picture, both of which he ascribes to Giambono; implies that they were produced before 1430 when Giambono was most influenced by Gentile.

Harry B. Wehle. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Italian, Spanish, and Byzantine Paintings. New York, 1940, pp. 170–71, ill.

Evelyn Sandberg-Vavalà. "The Reconstruction of a Polyptych by Michele Giambono." Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 10 (1947), pp. 21 n. 6, 24, refers to it as by Giambono, noting that its attribution has been doubted; calls the Padua painting "of unimpeachable paternity in spite of its false inscription to Mantegna".

Luigi Coletti. "Su Antonio Orsini." Arte veneta 5 (1951), p. 97, hesitantly suggests an attribution to Antonio Orsini.

F. M. Godfrey. Early Venetian Painters: 1415–1495. London, 1954, p. 7, pl. 12, tentatively attributes it to Giambono, incorrectly identifying the second figure as a donor.

Rodolfo Pallucchini. La pittura veneta del quattrocento: il gotico internazionale e gli inizi del rinascimento. Bologna, [1956], p. 99, calls this picture and the related work in Padua masterpieces of Giambono; dates them to the 1420s or 1430s.

Bernard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Venetian School. London, 1957, vol. 1, p. 82, lists it as by Giambono.

Giovanni Mariacher in Dizionario biografico degli italiani. Vol. 12, Rome, 1970, p. 287, attributes it to Giambono, observing that it is difficult to date.

Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972, pp. 84, 359, 397, 605.

Denys Sutton, ed. Letters of Roger Fry. New York, 1972, vol. 1, p. 252, letter 173 (February 18, 1906), p. 255 n. 1 to letter 177 (March 2, 1906).

Federico Zeri with the assistance of Elizabeth E. Gardner. Italian Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Venetian School. New York, 1973, p. 26, pl. 23, note that the small figure of Saint Francis receives the stigmata directly from the wounds of Christ rather than from the usual flying seraphic figure; suggest an early date based on the pronounced influence of Gentile da Fabriano and mention the similar panel (Museo Civico, Padua) painted by Giambono at a later time and lacking the figure of Saint Francis.

Norman Earl Land Jr. "Michele Giambono: A Catalogue Raisonne." PhD diss., University of Virginia, 1974, pp. 24–25, 36, 38, 50, 75, 151–153, no. 6, pl. IX, discusses the iconography; attributes it to Giambono, considers it contemporary with the altarpiece at Fano and dates it around 1425–30; on the basis of this date suggests that it may be the panel described in the archives of the Treviso cathedral as a "portella corporis christi" [tabernacle door] sent by Giambono to Treviso in 1431; illustrates the related picture in the collection of Horace Morison, Boston [now Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge] in which Saint Francis is omitted, and calls it a copy after the MMA painting.

Frances Spalding. Roger Fry: Art and Life. Berkeley, 1980, p. 91, notes that it was acquired during Fry's first year at the Metropolitan.

Norman E. Land. "Two Panels by Michele Giambono and Some Observations on St. Francis and the Man of Sorrows in Fifteenth-Century Venetian Painting." Studies in Iconography 6 (1980), pp. 30–40, 42, ill., discusses the peculiarities of the iconography, placing it in the context of other representations of Saint Francis.

Everett Fahy. Letter to Keith Christiansen. May 27, 1984, reports that he saw "a surprisingly good copy" of this work in the storeroom of the St. Louis Art Museum, and that it was given to the museum in 1955 by Horace Morison.

John Pope-Hennessy. "Roger Fry and The Metropolitan Museum of Art." Oxford, China, and Italy: Writings in Honour of Sir Harold Acton on his Eightieth Birthday. Ed. Edward Chaney and Neil Ritchie. London, 1984, p. 234.

Hans Belting. L'arte e il suo pubblico: funzione e forme delle antiche immagini della passione. Bologna, 1986, pp. 88–89, 267, no. 26, ill. [German ed. 1981], discusses the iconography of the picture, noting the liturgical function of the image which equates the tomb of Christ with the altar of the eucharist; gives conflicting dates ranging from 1425 to 1432.

Timothy J. Newbery and Laurence B. Kanter in Italian Renaissance Frames. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1990, p. 36, no. 4, ill., discuss the frame, noting that the engaged framework was applied to the panel after it was burnished and gessoed, a practice common in northern Italy.

Edgar Peters Bowron. European Paintings before 1900 in the Fogg Art Museum: A Summary Catalogue including Paintings in the Busch-Reisinger Museum. Cambridge, Mass., 1990, p. 109, states that the Fogg painting "Christ as Man of Sorrows" (1985.209), formerly in the collection of Horace Morison, is a copy after the MMA painting by Giambono.

Cristina Pesaro. "Michele Giambono." Saggi e memorie di storia dell'arte 18 (1992), pp. 35, 156, ill., catalogues the picture and reviews its bibliography.

Tiziana Franco. Michele Giambono e il monumento a Cortesia da Serego in Santa Anastasia a Verona. Padua, 1998, p. 99, fig. 59.

Amy Neff in Byzantium: Faith and Power (1261–1557). Ed. Helen C. Evans. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2004, p. 484, no. 294, ill. (color).

Oskar Bätschmann. Giovanni Bellini. London, 2008, pp. 113–14, fig. 99, compares Christ's pose with that of Saint Francis in Bellini's "Saint Francis in the Desert" (Frick Collection, New York).

Catherine Puglisi and William Barcham in Passion in Venice, Crivelli to Tintoretto and Veronese: The Man of Sorrows in Venetian Art. Ed. Catherine Puglisi and William Barcham. Exh. cat., Museum of Biblical Art. New York, 2011, pp. 68, 84.

Xavier Seubert in Passion in Venice, Crivelli to Tintoretto and Veronese: The Man of Sorrows in Venetian Art. Ed. Catherine Puglisi and William Barcham. Exh. cat., Museum of Biblical Art. New York, 2011, pp. 30–32, fig. 20 (color), dates it about 1420–30; discusses the iconography.

William L. Barcham. "Deferential or Formulaic? Antonio Vivarini and the Sacred Image of the Man of Sorrows." Artibus et Historiae. no. 67, 2013, p. 60, fig. 5 (color), notes that the position of Christ's arms is unusual in Venetian depictions of the half- or three-quarter-length "imago pietatis," but is also seen in Antonio Vivarini's altarpiece of about 1440 in the Euphrasian Basilica, Porec, Croatia.

William L. Barcham. "Six Panels by Michele Giambono, 'pictor Sancti Marci'." New Perspectives on the Man of Sorrows. Ed. Catherine Puglisi and William L. Barcham. Kalamazoo, 2013, pp. 192, 196, 200, 202–3, 209, 211–12, 216 nn. 32–33, fig. 4, ill. in color on cover, discusses the iconography and the use of the fabric, noting the innovation of introducing the figure of Saint Francis.

"A carved and gilt engaged tabernacle frame. Inside a simple molding is a lancet arch lined with small cusps and supported on Solomonic half-columns without bases. The spandrels are carved with pierced foliate ornament, including two imitation metalwork bosses." (Newbery and Kanter 1990)

This portable devotional image is intact. The reverse is painted to imitate porphyry. The pierced framework was applied after the completion of the painting, a common practice in northern Italy.
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