The surface of this pristinely preserved painting has an enamel-like finish and jewellike depth of color. It was painted by Domenichino a year after he moved from his native Bologna to Rome. The composition repeats that of a large altarpiece designed by Annibale Carracci for the Church of San Francesco a Ripa, Rome. Annibale greatly admired the talent of his young assistant, who in this painting outstripped his elder in creating a mood of restrained but poignant grief. The turbaned figure of Joseph of Arimathea with an urn was Domenichino’s personal interpolation into Annibale’s composition.
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Fig. 1. Detail of back of copper plate showing attribution to Annibale Carracci
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Fig. 2. Annibale Carracci, "Pietà with Saints Francis and Mary Magdalen" (Musée du Louvre, Paris)
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Fig. 3. Annibale Carracci, "Pietà," pen and black ink, black wash, lead white, and watercolor on prepared paper, 43 x 32 cm (Musée Jenisch, Vevey, Switzerland)
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Credit Line:Purchase, Walter and Leonore Annenberg Acquisitions Endowment Fund, European Paintings Funds and funds from various donors; Mr. and Mrs. Mark Fisch and The Reed Foundation Gifts; Gwynne Andrews Fund; Elaine Rosenberg Gift; The Edward Joseph Gallagher III Memorial Collection, Edward J. Gallagher Jr. Bequest; Marquand Fund; Museum Purchase Fund; Peter Tcherepnine Gift; The Camille M. Lownds Fund; Stephenson Family Foundation Gift; Ruth and Victoria Blumka Fund; Earl Kiely Bequest; and The Morse G. Dial Foundation, 2005 CINOA Prize and Diane Carol Brandt Gifts, 2008
The Painting: This small, almost perfectly preserved painting on copper depicts the Virgin Mary, in an ice blue robe, seated against the empty tomb, supporting the head of her dead son, whose pale, lifeless body is arranged along an opposing diagonal. Two grieving cherubs point out the wounds in his hands and feet, while the nails and crown of thorns lie on the ground nearby. At right is Mary Magdalen, in rose and gold, while at left stands the turbaned figure of Joseph of Arimathea, grasping a large urn set on a plinth. In the background a hilly landscape rises above the tightly knit group of figures. The date MDCIII (1603) appears at lower left as though chiseled in the stone ledge.
The Attribution: An inscription scratched into the reverse of the copper plate includes the initials of an unidentified owner (GM surmounted by a cross), with an attribution to Annibale Carracci (1560–1609; see fig. 1 above). The earliest recorded reference to the picture—a handwritten note dated 1775, by which time the painting had made its way to London—also attributes it to Annibale Carracci. This attribution was maintained for the next two hundred years or so, while the picture was in the collection of the earls of Yarborough, but in 1982 Spear assigned it to Domenichino on stylistic grounds and this attribution has been universally accepted. Domenichino was a favored student and assistant of Annibale, who promoted the younger artist on many projects. Domenichino made a number of copies of Annibale’s works soon after his arrival in Rome from his native Bologna in 1602, and this work belongs to that group. According to Spear (1982), Domenichino is the only one of Annibale’s pupils who dated his works in Roman numerals at this time.
The Altarpiece by Annibale Carracci: This is a copy of a large altarpiece by Annibale Carracci and assistants (oil on canvas, 277 x 185 cm) made for the Mattei family chapel in the church of San Francesco a Ripa, Rome, and now in the Musée du Louvre, Paris (fig. 2). Annibale’s painting, destined for San Francesco, depicts a kneeling Saint Francis in place of the standing Joseph of Arimathea, whereas Domenichino’s substitution gives the composition historical unity and potentially greater saleability. Posner (1971) thought Domenichino’s painting must reflect an earlier state of Annibale’s painting, but X-rays made in 1994 have subsequently shown that the figure of Saint Francis in Annibale’s composition is original (see Loire 1996).
The Met’s picture is dated 1603, but there is evidence that Annibale’s altarpiece was not completed until four years later. An undated letter from the Bolognese cleric and writer Giovanni Battista Agucchi to his friend Bartolomeo Dulcini describes Carracci’s painting in detail and states that it had been installed in the church by Easter (published in Raccolta di lettere sulla pittura, scultura ed architettura, G. Bottari and S. Ticozzi, ed., vol. 7, 1822, pp. 19–21). A reference to what is probably the same painting in a letter dated July 4, 1607 (published in C. C. Malvasia, Felsina Pittrice, 1678, vol. 1, p. 453), also from Agucchi to Dulcini, has led scholars to assign the completion of the picture to the year 1607. Based on the presumed date of Carracci’s altarpiece, Bora and Radrizzani (1997) and Pepper (2000) believe that Domenichino’s painting is based on Carracci's compositional drawing (pen and ink, 42 x 32 cm; fig. 3) in the Musée Jenisch, Vevey, rather than on the altarpiece itself. Whitfield (2006), however, believes that the date on the Agucchi letter was mistranscribed and actually reads 1602 rather than 1607, the earlier date being plausible on stylistic grounds, and also because contemporary accounts recorded that Annibale’s productivity declined significantly in his later years, due to illness. It is also possible that the altarpiece was begun in about 1602 and then set aside and not completed until several years later. Malvasia (1678, vol. 1, p. 444), the seventeenth-century biographer of the Carracci, assigns it to the painter’s final period, but notes that some people claimed it had been painted long before. See Loire (1996) and Summerscale (2000) for a detailed discussion of this issue.
Gretchen Wold 2017
Inscription: Dated (left, on stone ledge): M.DCIII
George Aufrere, London (by 1775–d. 1801); his widow, Mrs. George (Arabella Bate) Aufrere, London (1801–d. 1804); her son-in-law, Charles Anderson-Pelham, 1st Baron Yarborough, London (1804–d. 1823); Charles Anderson-Pelham, 1st Earl of Yarborough, London (1823–d. 1846); Earls of Yarborough, London (1846–75); Charles Alfred Worsley Anderson-Pelham, 4th Earl of Yarborough, London (1875–1929; sale, Christie's, London, July 12, 1929, no. 18, as by Annibale Carracci, for £73.10 to Turner); [Percy Moore Turner, London, from 1929]; [Colnaghi, London; sold to Pelham]; Marcus Herbert Pelham, 6th Earl of Yarborough, Brocklesby Hall, Habrough, Lincolnshire (until d. 1966); John Edward Pelham, 7th Earl of Yarborough, Brocklesby Hall (1966–d. 1991); Charles John Pelham, 8th Earl of Yarborough, Brocklesby Hall (1991–2007; sale, Christie's, London, July 5, 2007, no. 40, to Naumann); [Otto Naumann, New York, 2007–8; sold to The Met]
London. British Institution. July 1832, no. 22 (as "Dead Christ with the Marys," by Annibale Carracci, lent by Lord Yarborough).
London. British Institution. June 1849, no. 6 (as "The Dead Christ with the Maries," by Annibale Carracci, lent by the Earl of Yarborough).
Rome. Palazzo Venezia. "Domenichino, 1581–1641," October 10, 1996–January 14, 1997, no. 7 (as "Pietà," by Domenichino, lent by a private collection, Habrough).
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.
Brownlow Cecil, 9th Earl of Exeter. note written in copy of Orlandi's "Abecedario Pittorico," Venice, 1753. 1775 [Burghley House, Stamford, England; published in Christie's 2007], as "Mary Supported by Angels, holding the body of Our Saviour on her knee, two infant angels at His feet, Jos: of Aramathea with a vause of oinment looking, by An: Caracci, at G. Aufrères Esq. in Chelsea. A capital performance of the master, 1775".
manuscript addition to "Catalogue of Mr. Aufrere's Pictures at Chelsea," [London?], 1790. [1790 or later] [published in Christie's 2007], as in the dining room, "Annibale Carache—The Virgin and the Body of our Saviour with Mary Magdalen Joseph of Arimathea & 2 Boys at the feet of Christ".
[Gustav Friedrich] Waagen. Treasures of Art in Great Britain. London, 1854, vol. 2, p. 87, lists it in Lord Yarborough's collection, as "A Pietà; a carefully finished cabinet picture," by Annibale Carracci.
[Gustav Friedrich] Waagen. Galleries and Cabinets of Art in Great Britain. London, 1857, p. 66, as by Annibale Carracci, referring to it as a cabinet-size example on wood [sic] of the full-size composition; as in the earl's London house.
Donald Posner. Annibale Carracci: A Study in the Reform of Italian Painting around 1590. New York, 1971, vol. 2, p. 61, under no. 136, pl. 136b, as in the collection of the Earl of Yarborough, formerly with P. M. Turner; identifies it as a copy after Annibale Carracci's Pietà in the Musée du Louvre, Paris, proposing that the MMA picture records the original appearance of the Louvre work, in which the figure of Joseph of Arimathea was later replaced with Saint Francis; believes that the Louvre painting was commissioned in about 1602, brought to a partial state of completion, and then reworked and completed in 1607; bases this dating on the style of the work, on the date of 1603 appearing on the MMA picture, and on two letters, one dated 1607, that mention the altarpiece being installed in the Mattei chapel in San Francesco a Ripa, Rome (see Notes).
Gianfranco Malafarina inL'opera completa di Annibale Carracci. Milan, 1976, p. 122, under no. 128, fig. 128(1).
Richard E. Spear. Domenichino. New Haven, 1982, vol. 1, pp. 10, 49, 131, 175, no. 9; vol. 2, pl. 10, attributes it to Domenichino on stylistic grounds, comparing it with his "Christ at the Column" (now Barbara Piasecka Johnson collection, Lawrenceville, N.J.) and "Susanna and the Elders" (Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Rome), both also dated 1603; adds that the date in Roman numerals inscribed on the work also points to Domenichino; follows Posner (1971) in calling it a copy after the Louvre painting, which he dates 1602–7 and believes originally included a figure of Joseph of Arimathea in place of Saint Francis; ascribes workshop assistance, but not that of Domenichino, to Carracci's altarpiece in the Louvre; notes that Domenichino also made a lost copy after Carracci's Pietà of 1604 now in the National Gallery, London, and discusses differences between the two Carracci pictures and the two by Domenichino; provides provenance information.
Stéphane Loire. École italienne, XVIIe siècle. Vol. 1, Bologne. Paris, 1996, pp. 133–34, 136, fig. 53, states that x-rays of the Louvre picture reveal that the figure of Saint Francis is original to the composition (see Posner 1971).
Richard E. Spear inDomenichino, 1581–1641. Exh. cat., Palazzo Venezia, Rome. Milan, 1996, pp. 380, 382–83, 540, no. 7, ill. (color), having formerly ruled out Domenichino's assistance on Carracci's altarpiece in the Louvre (see Spear 1982), now suggests that the inclusion of the Carracci in the present exhibition provides the opportunity to reconsider that opinion.
Almamaria Mignosi Tantillo inDomenichino, 1581–1641. Exh. cat., Palazzo Venezia, Rome. Milan, 1996, pp. 27, 54 n. 32.
Elizabeth Cropper inThe Dictionary of Art. Ed. Jane Turner. Vol. 9, New York, 1996, p. 88.
Stéphane Loire. "Rome: Domenichino." Burlington Magazine 139 (March 1997), p. 221, calls it "almost tender when compared with its model . . . by Annibale".
Giulio Bora and Dominique Radrizzani inCinq siècles de dessins: collections du Musée Jenisch. Exh. cat., Musée Jenisch. Vevey, 1997, pp. 36, 39, fig. 1, publish Carracci's compositional drawing, which they date 1602, for his painting in the Louvre, referring to Domenichino's picture as a copy after the drawing rather than the painting; suggest that Domenichino replaced the figure of Saint Francis with that of Joseph of Arimathea because the latter fit better within the iconographical context of the work.
Anne Summerscale. Malvasia's Life of the Carracci: Commentary and Translation. University Park, Pa., 2000, p. 241 n. 345, mentions it as a copy after the Louvre painting.
D. Stephen Pepper. "Caravaggio, Carracci and the Cerasi Chapel." Studi di storia dell'arte in onore di Denis Mahon. Ed. Maria Grazia Bernardini et al. Milan, 2000, p. 121 n. 18, agrees with Bora and Radrizzani (1997) that Domenichino's picture was copied from Carracci's compositional drawing in Vevey, not from the painting in the Louvre; states that Bora and Radrizzani suggest that Domenichino replaced Saint Francis with Joseph of Arimathea in order to make his picture more saleable, adding that both he and Denis Mahon, with whom he has discussed the matter, agree with this explanation.
Almamaria Mignosi Tantillo. "La Cappella Cerasi: vicende di una decorazione." Caravaggio Carracci Maderno: la Cappella Cerasi in Santa Maria del Popolo a Roma. Cinisello Balsamo (Milan), 2001, p. 74 n. 18, questions the idea that it was copied from Carracci's compositional drawing in Vevey, stating that the colors and details of finish seem to depend from Carracci's Louvre painting.
Denis Mahon inIl San Giovanni Battista ritrovato: la tradizione classica in Annibale Carracci e in Caravaggio. Exh. cat., Musei Capitolini, Rome. Milan, 2001, pp. 21, 26 n. 16.
Clovis Whitfield. "Landscape Paintings and Drawings by Antonio Carracci." Paragone 57 (November 2006), p. 3, pl. 2, mentions it as a copy after Carracci's painting in the Louvre; believes that the date on the letter referring to the altarpiece (see Loire 1996 and Notes) has been mistranscribed and actually reads 1602 rather than 1607.
Important Old Master & British Pictures Including Property from the Collection of Jacques Goudstikker. Christie's, London. July 5, 2007, pp. 18–23, no. 40, ill. in color (overall and details, and overall on cover), provides extensive provenance details.
Everett Fahy in "Recent Acquisitions, A Selection: 2007–2008." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 66 (Fall 2008), p. 21, ill. (color).
Clare Robertson. The Invention of Annibale Carracci. Cinisello Balsamo, Milan, 2008, p. 129 n. 157, agrees with Spear (1982) that it records Annibale's original composition.
Keith Christiansen inPhilippe de Montebello and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1977–2008. New York, 2009, p. 37.
Roberto Zapperi. "Annibale Carracci e Odoardo Farnese." Bollettino d'arte 95 (October–December 2010), p. 84.
Old Master & British Paintings: Evening Sale. Christie's, London. July 8, 2014, p. 146, under no. 40.
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