Art/ Collection/ Art Object

The Burial of Christ

Annibale Carracci (Italian, Bologna 1560–1609 Rome)
Oil on copper
17 1/4 x 13 3/4 in. (43.8 x 34.9 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Edwin L. Weisl Jr. Gift, 1998
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 623
This deeply moving picture was painted for one of Carracci’s patrons, Astorre di Vincenzo Sampieri, a canon of the cathedral of San Pietro in Bologna. Intended as a gift for an important figure in Rome, it was retained by Sampieri, who sent a copy of it by Guido Reni instead. We view the dramatic event from within the burial chamber, the figures lit by torch; through an opening the holy women can be seen against a dawn-lit landscape. The picture was much admired. At least seven copies are known in addition to the one Sampieri sent to Rome.
Technique: This depiction of the entombment of Christ is painted in oil on a copper panel. A series of measurements taken with calipers of the coppper panel indicate a variation in thickness, confirming that the support was made by hammering. The highly polished copper plate was scored to facilitate adhesion in preparation for the painting process. Then, a transparent, reddish-brown preparation was applied. The transparency of this layer was quite calculated as it allowed the artist to exploit the reflective quality of the copper panel. This preparation is unusual in that it does not contain opaque material that is typically found in grounds. Its appearance suggests that it is most likely an oil or oil/resin. The analysis of this brittle, transparent material, using polarized light microscopy and and gas chromatography, was inconclusive for a specific material. However, the presence of carbon black particles widely dispersed in the amorphous material suggests that some sort of heat process had been employed in the coating process. This is not surprising since the use of copper panels for oil painting supports are associated with the advent of printmaking, where the plates are often prepared for various graphic techniques by heat-fusing resins and oils. Indeed, the use of protective oil/resin coatings on metal using heat has also been commonly practiced in various metal crafting arts.[1]

In many passages the transparent preparation was left revealed as the opaque passages were worked on top. It essentially served as an imprimatur but in an enhanced way in that it allows for the special reflective properties of the copper panel. This preparation adjusts the tone of the support and is specifically calculated into parts of the design layer. For example, the painter reserved the transparent layer in significant areas of the rocky interior of the cave wall and floor of the cave. When the painting is properly lit, it is clear that the painter chose this buildup in order to simulate the effect of torchlight reflecting inside the cave. By contrast, at the upper right, scumbling with more opaque pigments was used to achieve the cooler effect of evening light entering through the cave door.

Condition: When the picture was examined in the conservation studio an unattractive thick milky-gray varnish, probably applied by a spray gun as it had an unpleasant orange-peel texture, obscured the painting. Cleaning tests confirmed that the varnish was a synthetic coating, soluble in toluene. In addition, large portions of the painting, particularly the cave interior, were extensively overpainted with opaque paint. After the varnish was removed, the sensitive technique and low-relief brushwork with contrasting smooth passage of paint characteristic of paintings on copper support was revealed. The figures, painted for the most part with opaque paint, are generally well preserved and have suffered only small flake losses. The passages where the more solvent-sensitive transparent layer remained visible have suffered abrasion to a greater degree.

Treatment: Despite the evidence of earlier insecurity, the paint is overall very well attached. Along the edges of some of the flake losses, particularly in the robe and surrounding the head of the turbaned figure that stands to the right of Christ, the paint is slightly lipped. As the paint in these areas has been locked into this position for a very long time and shows no signs of movement or insecurity any attempt to press this flat is neither necessary nor desirable.

After the painting was cleaned, the surface was brushed with a very thin varnish (5% mastic dissolved in turpentine with the addition of 3% Tinuvin 292). PVA/AYAB mixed with dry pigments was used to retouch the losses. Mastic varnish (5% in turpentine) was applied with a brush as needed for further saturation and to adjust the surface gloss.

A wooden strainer fitted to the convex curvature of the copper panel was constructed. The panel is secured to the strainer with a metal surround made of coated brass that minimally catches the edges.

[Dorothy Mahon 1998]

[1] Microscopic examination and analysis was carried out by Christopher McGlinchey, Research Chemist. He suggests that the identification of a specific oil or resin was not possible because the heating process destroyed the chemical structure of the original material. Robert Carol, Armorer, described the common practice of heat-fusing oil and resins onto metal.
abbate Astorre di Vincenzo Sampieri, Bologna (from 1595); Sampieri collection, Bologna (until 1811; cat., 1795, p. 19; sold to Beauharnais); Prince Eugène de Beauharnais, Viceroy of Italy, later Herzog von Leuchtenberg, Munich (1811–d. 1824; cat., 1825, no. 15); Herzogen von Leuchtenberg, Munich and St. Petersburg (1824–at least 1870; cat., 1851, no. 69); [Schwarz, Philadelphia, bought in Philadelphia before 1965, until 1990; sold to Osuna]; [Osuna Gallery, Washington, D.C., 1990–at least 1992; as by Badalocchio]; sale, Christie's, New York, May 22, 1998, no. 74, as Attributed to Sisto Badalocchio, to Katrin Bellinger for MMA
Washington. Osuna Gallery. "Four Centuries of European Paintings," 1992, no. 5 (as "The Entombment," by Sisto Badalocchio).

Gio[vanni]. Pietro Bellori. Vita di Guido Reni, d'Andrea Sacchi e di Carlo Maratti. n.d., c. 6 [Bibliothèque Municipale, Rouen, ms. 2506; published in Michelangelo Piacentini, ed. "Le vite inedite del Bellori," Rome, 1942, p. 7]; or p. 2v [published in E. Borea, ed. "Le vite de' pittori, scultori e architetti moderni," Turin, 1976, p. 490], mentions it as "la Deposizione di Croce dell'Abbate San Pieri," a work of Annibale Carracci copied by Reni.

Carlo Cesare Malvasia. Felsina pittrice: vite de' pittori bolognesi. Bologna, 1678, vol. 1, p. 502; vol. 2, p. 8 [1841 ed., Bologna, ed. Giampietro Zanotti, vol. 1, p. 359; vol. 2, p. 8], relates that Annibale painted a Burial of Christ on copper for his friend Sampieri to give as a gift to an unnamed important person in Rome, but that Sampieri kept the painting and had a copy made by Guido Reni; lists the copy by Guido in the Palazzo del Giardino, Parma.

Sir Joshua Reynolds. Notebook. 1752, c. 86v [Sir John Soane's Museum, London; published in Giovanna Perini, "Sir Joshua Reynolds a Bologna (1752)," Storia dell'arte 73 (1991), p. 395], records the presence of this painting in the Palazzo Sampieri describing it as "laying Christ in the sepulchr [sic], Annibale".

[Charles Nicolas] Cochin. Voyage d'Italie, ou recueil de notes sur les ouvrages de peinture & de sculpture, qu'on voit dans les principales villes d'Italie. Paris, 1758, vol. 2, p. 170, no. 7, having seen this picture in the Palazzo Sampieri in 1751, describes it as very beautiful but very dark.

Marcello Oretti. Le pitture che si vedono nelle case e palazzi de nobili della città di Bologna. n.d., ff. 43–44 [Biblioteca Comunale, Bologna; ms. B. 104], lists it in the Palazzo Sampieri as a copy by Guido Reni after Annibale Carracci; wrongly interprets Malvasia's text [see Ref. 1678], stating that, contrary to prevailing opinion, Malvasia thought the Sampieri picture to be by Reni.

Descrizione italiana e francese di tutto ciò, che si contiene nella Galleria del Sig. Marchese Senatore Luigi Sampieri. Bologna, [1795], p. 19 [see Ref. Tuyll van Serooskerken 1980], describes it as "la Deposizione di Cristo nel Sepolcro, con Cinque Figure, di Annibale Caracci".

[Johann Nepomuk] Muxel. Verzeichniss der Bildergallerie seiner koeniglichen hoheit des Prinzen Eugen, Herzogs von Leuchtenberg in Muenchen. Munich, 1843, p. 24, no. 15 [1st ed., 1825].

J. D. Passavant. Gemälde-Sammlung Seiner Kaiserl. Hoheit des Herzogs von Leuchtenberg in München. 2nd ed. Frankfurt am Main, 1851, p. 14, no. 69, pl. 69 (engraving by Muxel) [English ed., 1852, p. 12, no. 69, pl. 69], as by Annibale Carracci.

G[ustav]. F[riedrich]. Waagen. Die Gemäldesammlung in der Kaiserlichen Eremitage zu St. Petersburg. 2nd ed. St. Petersburg, 1870, p. 378.

J[ames]. Byam Shaw. Paintings by Old Masters at Christ Church Oxford. London, 1967, p. 103, under no. 185, mentions it as formerly in the Leuchtenberg collection, Munich; lists other versions of the composition and suggests that the prototype may have been a lost work by Annibale Carracci.

Evelina Borea. Pittori bolognesi del seicento nelle gallerie di Firenze. Exh. cat., Galleria degli Uffizi. Florence, 1975, p. 81, under no. 62.

Carel van Tuyll van Serooskerken. "Badalocchio's 'Entombment of Christ' from Reggio: A New Document and Some Related Paintings." Burlington Magazine 122 (March 1980), pp. 185–86, fig. 37 (engraving), proposes that this picture (i.e., the painting formerly in the Leuchtenberg collection) is the work painted for Sampieri by Annibale and is the "lost" prototype for a group of paintings of similar composition; notes that from Malvasia's text [see Ref. 1678], the picture must date from 1595; suggests that it was probably included among the works bought from the Sampieri collection in 1811 by Eugène de Beauharnais.

Emilia Calbi and Daniela Scaglietti Kelescian, ed. Marcello Oretti e il patrimonio artistico privato bolognese. Bologna, 1984, p. 162.

Baroque Paintings. Exh. cat., Piero Corsini. New York, 1992, pp. 10, 48 n. 3, under no. 2, mentions it as a lost work possibly by Annibale formerly in the Leuchtenberg collection.

Four Centuries of European Paintings. Exh. cat., Osuna Gallery. Washington, 1992, p. ?, no. 5, ill. (color), as by Sisto Badalocchio.

Important Old Master Paintings. Christie's, New York. May 22, 1998, pp. 86–87, no. 74, ill. (color), as Attributed to Sisto Badalocchio, after a lost composition by Annibale Carracci.

Paul Jeromack. "New York Sales in Focus." Art Newspaper no. 83 (July–August 1998), p. 41, ill.

Keith Christiansen. "Annibale Carracci's 'Burial of Christ' Rediscovered." Burlington Magazine 141 (July 1999), pp. 414–18, fig. 31 (color), discusses the attribution, provenance, and biographical sources relating to the picture, which he ascribes to Annibale Carracci and dates about 1594–95.

Nicholas Turner. Federico Barocci. Paris, 2000, p. 162, fig. 138, believes that the compositional structure is based on Barocci's Entombment (1579–82; Santa Croce, Senigallia).

Clare Robertson. The Invention of Annibale Carracci. Cinisello Balsamo, Milan, 2008, p. 100, colorpl. 83a.

Mattia Biffis. "A Rediscovered 'St Jerome' on Copper by Guido Reni and its Early Provenance." Burlington Magazine 158 (August 2016), p. 614.

A number of copies and variant copies of this composition exist (see Tuyll van Serooskerken 1980). The finest of these is a painting in the Dulwich Picture Gallery ascribed to Sisto Badalocchio. A drawing after the picture, probably by Badalocchio, is in the Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg. A preparatory drawing for the figure of Christ was sold at Christie's, London, on July 6, 1982, no. 35, incorrectly ascribed to Cavedone. Guido Reni also copied the picture (see Malvasia 1678).
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