Michelangelo's 'The Entombment'
In 1914, Bomberg took his first wife, Alice Mayes, to the National Gallery. She recalls how the artist rushed her through the rooms: 'I was to keep my eyes for the picture and so we came to Michael Angelo’s [sic] 'Entombment'. He pointed out to me the wonderful composition of the picture and marvellous proportions of the figures […] David explained that the modern pictures had their beginning with the Old Masters and Michael Angelo was the chief of these.'
Michelangelo, 'The Entombment', about 1500–1
Bomberg’s carefully constructed painting ‘In the Hold’ shows a man extending his arms across the chaos in an emigrant ship, helping adults and children being unloaded. The painting’s composition stresses the unfolding action of its scene. Bomberg seems influenced by the forceful arm gesture in Veronese’s 'Unfaithfulness', a dramatic composition in which a female figure is physically held by a child and a man to her left, her other hand joined with that of her lover on the right.
Paolo Veronese, 'Unfaithfulness' from the 'Four Allegories of Love' series, about 1575
Sandro Botticelli's 'Mystic Nativity'
Bomberg’s ‘Vision of Ezekiel’ shows heartfelt moments from a biblical story. Having risen from the dead, figures clasp each other with a profound sense of wonder. Their urge to embrace is defined in kneeling protagonists preparing to stand upright and regain their former life. Even more intense are the two standing figures who run their arms over one another’s bodies. Their emotive composition suggests inspiration from Botticelli’s ‘Mystic Nativity’, where angels in the foreground ardently embrace men in reconciliation and in solace.
Sandro Botticelli, 'Mystic Nativity', 1500
Piero della Francesca's 'The Baptism of Christ'
Piero was known to Bomberg through the example of his influential writings on composition as well as his famous ‘Baptism of Christ’ in the collection. A striking figure in that painting is a semi-naked man on the right, depicted in the process of pulling off his garment before plunging into the waters of the River Jordan. Bomberg might well have responded to this bather whose legs, poised on the very edge of the water, are akin to the limbs enlivening the right half of ‘The Mud Bath’.
Piero della Francesca, 'The Baptism of Christ', after 1437
Antonio del Pollaiuolo and Piero del Pollaiuolo's 'The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian'
In Bomberg’s ‘Sappers’, we see a worker bending over his shovel, surprising the viewer with his green-trousered buttocks and bare legs. Bomberg relates his painting to the powerful figure of an archer in the foreground of ‘The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian’ by Antonio and Piero del Pollaiuolo. Bomberg would have regarded it as a major depiction of men’s bodies. The right leg in Bomberg’s image of the digging sapper, flexed with the strain of intense physical activity, is clearly indebted to the Pollaiuolo's painting.
Antonio del Pollaiuolo and Piero del Pollaiuolo, 'The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian', completed 1475