The Lamentation, Ludovico Carracci (Italian, Bologna 1555–1619 Bologna), Oil on canvas

The Lamentation

Ludovico Carracci (Italian, Bologna 1555–1619 Bologna)
ca. 1582
Oil on canvas
37 1/2 x 68 in. (95.3 x 172.7 cm)
Credit Line:
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
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 601
In this astonishing painting, Christ has been painted with a directness and lack of idealization that sixteenth-century critics found shocking, while the figures of the Virgin, the three Maries, and Saint John are notably stylized. This experimentation with the means of representation rather than an abstract sense of harmony and beauty characterizes Ludovico’s early work. A landmark of the Carracci reform of painting, the picture belonged to Alessandro Tanari, papal treasurer of Bologna and an avid collector of Ludovico’s work.
Painted about 1582–83 for Alessandro Tanari (1548–1639), who was to become a principal patron of Ludovico's, the Metropolitan's Lamentation is a landmark in the Carracci's program to reform painting by emphasizing working from the posed model as well as the study of the great painters of northern Italy. It is listed in an inventory of the Tanari collection drawn up in 1640 and is mentioned as well by our major source on Bolognese painting, Carlo Cesare Malvasia (1678, vol. 1, p. 495).

A drawing alternatively attributed to Ludovico or to Annibale Carracci (private collection: see Additional Images, fig. 1) shows a young model posed almost identically to that of the Christ but viewed from a different angle. A piece of cloth has been draped over some boxes to enable the model's legs to be arranged in the apposite position. The fact that the drawing is taken from an angle different from that of Christ in the painting suggests that another drawing of the same model was made from a position more to the right. In the Carracci's academy it would have been common for a number of artists to work from the same posed model simultaneously, each from a slightly different position. We might imagine the drawing that has come down to us as having been done by the young Annibale, while that of his older cousin, Ludovico, is lost. Be that as it may, Ludovico did not merely transfer the pose to his canvas, he was attentive as well to the play of light across the head and the description of the crown of thorns. Such details are indications of a new manner of visualizing the subject, for Ludovico has imagined with almost graphic intensity what Christ's broken body might appear like when taken down from the cross. He has not flinched at showing the left arm as though dislocated from the shoulder and the right hand mangled. Only in the painting do we begin to understand why the boxes beneath the model were arranged in the way they were, for among the most expressive elements in the picture is the arc of Christ's chest.

Ludovico's Lamentation was an extremely experimental picture, created more in the spirit of pictorial reform than of the affirmation of an established style. The figures of the Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalen, two holy women, and Saint John seem almost to have wandered into the painting from another, earlier era. The Virgin Mary is shown as an aged women, her ashen features and limp hand meant to affirm her role as participant in Christ's passion (note the brilliant contrast of the Virgin's hand with Christ's and the way the Virgin's pallor echoes Christ's). Similarly, the face of Saint John is beautifully modeled in a shaft of light—the same light that falls across Christ's body. But the figures do not have the weight or individual character of the Christ. The Magdalen, with her pursed lips and luxuriant hair, owes more to pictorial conventions than to any notion of reality. Moreover, the grouping of these figures is curiously flat and frieze-like, and Christ's very real-seeming body reads almost like an insertion into what had started as an altogether more conventional work. Few paintings serve as a more eloquent testament to the experimental nature of early Baroque naturalism and the audacity necessary to introduce it into a religious work.

In keeping with the experimental nature of the picture, it was painted on three irregular pieces of worn table linen that have been stitched together. X-rays reveal that the cloth, with a diamond-shaped pattern, had a number of holes that have been darned.

[Keith Christiansen 2010]
conte Alessandro Tanari, palazzo Tanari, Bologna (until d. 1639; inv., 1640); his son, marchese Giovanni Nicolò Tanari, palazzo Tanari (from 1639); by descent to Sebastiano Tanari, palazzo Tanari (until d. 1809; inv., 1809); Tanari family, palazzo Tanari (1809–at least 1825; probably sold shortly thereafter); Guido Ravenna, Bologna; his son, Enrico Ravenna, Bologna, Rome, and Buenos Aires (by 1940–d. 1986); his son, Guido Ravenna, Buenos Aires (1986–99; sold to Stromboni); [Jean-Jacques Stromboni, Buenos Aires, 1999–2000; sale, Christie's, New York, January 27, 2000, no. 74, to Salander for MMA]
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Philippe de Montebello Years: Curators Celebrate Three Decades of Acquisitions," October 24, 2008–February 1, 2009, online catalogue.

Inventory of the palazzo Tanari. May 9,1640, c. 59v [Archivio di Stato, Bologna; published in Ciammitti 1985; Getty no. I-1862], lists it as "una pittura d'uno Cristo Morto la Beata Vergine San Giovanni et le Madalene di mano di Ludovico Carazzi con cornice nera"; values it at 300 Ducatoni.

Carlo Cesare Malvasia. Felsina pittrice: vite de' pittori bolognesi. Bologna, 1678, vol. 1, p. 495, lists this picture as "Cristo morto con la B.V. e S. Giovanni," among the works of Ludovico in the palazzo Tanari.

Marcello Oretti. Le pitture che si vedono nelle case e palazzi de nobili della città di Bologna. n.d., p. 140 [Biblioteca Comunale, Bologna; ms. B. 104].

Inventory of Sebastiano Tanari. April 4, 1809, c. 102r [Archivio di Stato, Bologna], as "Cristo morto con la B.V. San Giovanni, ed altre figure di Lodovico Carracci, con qualche patimento e ritocco, L. 859,62".

Ferdinando Belvisi. Elogio storico del pittore Lodovico Caracci. Bologna, 1825, p. 53, lists it as with "Signori Marchesi Tanara".

Heinrich Bodmer. Lodovico Carracci. Burg b[ei]. Magdeb[urg]., 1939, p. 139, lists it with losts works of Ludovico.

Emilia Calbi and Daniela Scaglietti Kelescian, ed. Marcello Oretti e il patrimonio artistico privato bolognese. Bologna, 1984, p. 68.

Gail Feigenbaum. "Lodovico Carracci: A Study of His Later Career and A Catalogue of His Paintings." PhD diss., Princeton University, 1984, p. 497, lists it as a lost work by Ludovico, mistakenly calling the support copper.

Luisa Ciammitti in Tre artisti nella Bologna dei Bentivoglio. Padua, 1985, pp. 208, 216, publishes the 1640 inventory of the Tanari palace in via Galliera, Bologna.

Keith Christiansen. "Ludovico Carracci's Newly Recovered 'Lamentation'." Burlington Magazine 142 (July 2000), pp. 416–22, ill. in color (overall and details), calls Alessandro Tanari one of Ludovico's earliest and most ardent patrons; associates with the figure of Christ two chalk studies (figs. 6 and 7), one tentatively ascribed to Annibale (whereabouts unknown) and the other given to Ludovico (Wallraf Richartz Museum, Cologne); suggests a date of about 1582–86, close in date to Ludovico's "Vision of Saint Francis" (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam) of about 1583–86, in which the figure of the Christ Child is similarly foreshortened, but notes that the MMA painting's "haphazardly experimental and disjunctive" visual language argues for a still earlier date of about 1582.

Important Old Master Paintings. Christie's, New York. January 27, 2000, pp. 138–41, no. 74, ill. in color (overall and two details), identify this painting as Ludovico's lost "Lamentation" from the Tanari collection.

Alessandro Brogi. Ludovico Carracci. Bologna, 2001, vol. 1, pp. 13, 105–6, no. 5; vol. 2, figs. 6–7 (overall and detail), dates it about 1583 and considers the related drawing of a model to be by Ludovico rather than Annibale; suggests that it was intended for a private chapel.

Massimo Pirondini in Leonello Spada (1576–1622). Manerba, 2002, pp. 32, 72 n. 177, ill., relates it to Leonello Spada's lost painting of the same subject, formerly in the Palazzo Chigi, Rome.

Marinella Pigozzi in Il corpo in scena: i trattati di anatomia della Biblioteca Comunale Passerini-Landi. Exh. cat., Biblioteca Comunale Passerini-Landi. Piacenza, 2005, pp. 25–27, fig. 12.

Keith Christiansen. "Going for Baroque: Bringing 17th-Century Masters to the Met." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 62 (Winter 2005), pp. 17, 22, 26, 33, 39, fig. 19 (color).

Daniele Benati in Annibale Carracci. Ed. Daniele Benati and Eugenio Riccòmini. Exh. cat., Museo Civico Archeologico, Bologna. Milan, 2006, p. 129.

Keith Christiansen in Philippe de Montebello and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1977–2008. New York, 2009, p. 37.

Michel Hilaire in Corps et ombres: Caravage et le caravagisme européen. Ed. Michel Hilaire and Axel Hémery. Exh. cat., Musée Fabre, Montpellier and Musée des Augustins, Toulouse. Milan, 2012, p. 300, fig. 1.

Keith Christiansen. "La création tardive d'une collection de peintures baroques au Metropolitan Museum of Art / Creating a Baroque Collection at the Metropolitan Late in the Game." Aux origines d'un goût: la peinture baroque aux États-Unis / Creating the Taste for Baroque Painting in America. Paris, 2015, pp. 67, 72, fig. 2 (color, gallery installation).

Michael Fried. After Caravaggio. New Haven, 2016, p. 21, fig. 20 (color).

Kathryn Calley Galitz. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Masterpiece Paintings. New York, 2016, p. 279, no. 196, ill. pp. 196, 279 (color).

Andrea Bayer. "Better Late than Never: Collecting Baroque Painting at The Metropolitan Museum of Art." Buying Baroque: Italian Seventeenth-Century Paintings Come to America. Ed. Edgar Peters Bowron. University Park, Pa., 2017, p. 137.

Keith Christiansen in Dentro Caravaggio. Ed. Rossella Vodret. Exh. cat., Palazzo Reale. Milan, 2017, pp. 241, 243, fig. 5 (color).

The frame is from Bologna and dates to about 1582–90 (see Additional Images, figs. 2–4). This refined cassetta type frame is made of poplar and retains not only its original lap joined corners with applied mitre cut moldings but its original water gilding on a reddish-brown bole. Carved husks at the sight edge overlap to center points. The frieze is ornamented in Sansovinesque paterae at the centers, paterae at the corners, and rosettes applied to both. In between, an orderly pattern of punched field strapwork decorates the gilding. The top edge is ornamented in a double twisted ribbon that also emanates from center points. The outer hollow and ovolo then step to a vertical side molding. The frame’s place of origin and unaltered construction suggest that it was made for this painting.

[Timothy Newbery with Cynthia Moyer 2017; further information on this frame can be found in the Department of European Paintings files]