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Christ’s body has been taken down from the Cross and is being carried on a shroud to his place of burial. His head rests limply on his shoulder; his pale, foreshortened body is the focus of a whole retinue of grieving figures, each expressing their sorrow in a different way.
This small picture is painted on copper, and the artist has exploited the material’s reflective properties by painting a night scene, contrasting the darkness of the cave with the flickering light provided by the flaming torch falling on the figures.
This picture was once attributed to Ludovico Carracci but is now thought to be by Sisto Badalocchio, and is closely related to a design by Annibale Carracci.
Christ’s body has been taken down from the Cross and is being carried on a shroud to his place of burial. His head rests limply on his shoulder, his pale, foreshortened body the focus of a whole retinue of grieving figures, each expressing their sorrow in different ways. At the back is the Virgin Mary in blue; next to her in a turban is presumably Nicodemus or Saint Joseph of Arimathaea. The kneeling women on the right is perhaps Saint Mary Magdalene and one of the young men might be Saint John the Evangelist. Although not described in the Gospels, this variant on the Entombment was occasionally depicted in Renaissance and Baroque art. An example by Michelangelo is also in our collection: The Entombment.
Despite the small scale of this picture, the composition is monumentally conceived and the scene is imbued with a deep sense of pathos. It is painted on copper and the artist has exploited the material’s reflective properties by painting a night scene, contrasting the darkness of the cave with the flickering light of the flaming torch falling on the figures. The figures are placed centrally and close to the picture plane, increasing the viewer’s emotional involvement: we feel we are there, among Christ’s family and friends, sharing in their grief.
This picture was once attributed to Ludovico Carracci but is now thought to be by Sisto Badalocchio, a pupil of Annibale Carracci. Badalocchio may have drawn inspiration for his composition from a work by Annibale, and it has been suggested that a painting now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, may be Annibale’s original. According to Annibale’s two principal biographers, it was commissioned in 1594 by Astorre di Vincenzo Sampieri, a canon of the cathedral of Bologna, as a gift to an unidentified collector in Rome. Sampieri apparently left the choice of subject to Annibale, who decided on the burial for the opportunity it gave him to create a picture ‘filled with expression, with tears, with movement... variety in showing young and old men and women and similar learned contrasts’. The picture was so successful that Sampieri decided to keep it for himself and sent a copy made by the young Guido Reni to Rome instead. The popularity of Annibale’s design is demonstrated by the existence of numerous copies – at least ten survive, ascribed to different artists, including a fine example in Dulwich Picture Gallery, London. Badalocchio may have used Annibale’s design as a starting point for our painting and for his large canvas of 1618 for the Oratorio della Morte in Reggio Emilia, which exists today only in fragments in the Galleria Estense, Modena.
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