This somber and moving altarpiece was painted just before the artist’s death in 1554. It was commissioned by a lay society, or confraternity, and hung in their oratory in Brescia. There the members would have meditated on the moments following Christ’s death, when he was still surrounded by his followers, and thought of the meaning of the inscription, "Christ became obedient even unto death." The austere landscape, touched by light, is a foil for the figures with their controlled emotions.
Moretto’s last major work, this altarpiece was commissioned by the Brescian confraternity known as the Disciplina di San Giovanni Evangelista for their oratory adjacent to the church of the same name. It hung on the upper story of the building which, as was typical in the city, was divided so that men and women could meet on separate floors. The painting was first described in Bernardino Faino’s Guide to the churches of Brescia, written in the mid-seventeenth century: "In the upper oratory of this church there is an altarpiece by Moretto, a most beautiful thing and worthy of consideration. In it are shown the dead Christ with many figures. . . ." (Faino 1630–69 and Christiansen 1985). Dated October 1554, which was two months before the artist’s death, the painting probably hung in its original location from that time until the confraternity was suppressed in 1771.
The prominent inscription, painted as if carved onto the tombstone, reads: "Factvs est obediens vsqve ad mortem" (He . . . became obedient unto death . . .). This is a quotation from Paul’s Letter to the Philippians (2:8), an epistle written while the saint was imprisoned in Rome, in which the full verse reads: "And, being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." The composition has been organized so that the significance of this biblical passage becomes the focus of meditation, with Christ’s body—his skin grey, head falling forward awkwardly, and right foot displayed with its wound—pressed forward toward the viewer while held by the grieving Virgin, the Magdalen, and Saint John (patron saint of the church to which the oratory was attached). Behind them the richly attired Joseph of Arimathea grasps the crown of thorns to his chest, while Nicodemus holds the three long nails used at the crucifixion. In the background a path winds towards Golgotha, the three crosses outlined against a brightening sky. As Valerio Guazzoni showed in a classic study (1981), the construction of the painting as a visual exposition of the text presages the recommendations of the Council of Trent in 1563, and demonstrates Moretto’s importance in the history of devotional painting at this critical juncture in its history in Italy. Any suggestion that the painting is inferior in quality and that it might even have been completed by followers after the artist’s death (as in Gombosi 1943) must be reconsidered in light of this cogitated and deeply appropriate approach to the commission and needs of the confraternity members in those years (Christiansen 1985).
After leaving the oratory, the altarpiece belonged to two important north Italian families, the Brognoli of Brescia and the Frizzoni in their villa at Bellagio (for the Frizzoni, see Anderson 1999). Charles Eastlake, the first director of the National Gallery, London, considered purchasing it for London in 1862 but decided against it on the grounds that the cradling of Christ’s torso in the Virgin’s arms was indecorous (Bayer 2003). The work remained in private hands until it was acquired by the Metropolitan Museum in 1912 on the advice of the curator Bryson Burroughs, who wrote of it eloquently, noting that its "balanced arrangement, its rhythmic lines, the gravity and nobility of all its parts" reminded him of Bach and Milton.
[Andrea Bayer 2013]
Inscription: Dated and inscribed: (bottom left) AN[N]O.DOM[INI] / MDLIV MENS[IS] OCT[OBRIS] (In the year of our Lord 1554 in the month of October); (bottom center) FACTVS EST / OBEDIENS / VSQVE AD MORTEM (He . . . became obedient unto death . . . [Philippians 2:8].)
Disciplina di San Giovanni Evangelista, Brescia (probably until suppressed in 1771); Paolo Brognoli, Brescia (in 1826); Federico Frizzoni-Salis, Bergamo and Bellagio (by 1854–85, inv., n.d., no. 33; sold to Habich); [Edward Habich, Kassel, 1885; sold to Weber]; Eduard F. Weber, Hamburg (1885–d. 1907; his estate, 1907–12; cat., 1907, no. 128; his estate sale, Lepke's, Berlin, February 20–22, 1912, no. 128, to MMA)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Age of Caravaggio," February 5–April 14, 1985, no. 7.
Naples. Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte. "Caravaggio e il suo tempo," May 14–June 30, 1985, no. 7.
Bernardino Faino. Catalogo delle chiese di Brescia. 1630–69, p. 53 verso [published in Ref. Boselli 1961, p. 147], describes it as the altarpiece in the upper oratory of the Disciplina di San Giovanni.
Francesco Paglia. Il giardino della pittura. slightly before 1686, vol. 1, pp. 197–98 [published in Camillo Boselli, ed., "Supplemento ai 'Commentari dell'Ateneo di Brescia' per il 1967," Brescia, 1967, vol. 1, pp. 261–62], describes it as the altarpiece in the upper oratory of the Disciplina di San Giovanni.
Giovanni Battista Carboni. Le pitture e sculture di Brescia che sono esposte al pubblico con un'appendice di alcune private gallerie. Brescia, 1760, p. 50, describes it in the Disciplina di San Giovanni.
Paolo Brognoli. Nuova guida per la città di Brescia. Brescia, 1826, p. 204, mentions it as in his collection.
Agostino Locatelli. Guida artistico-monumentale di Bergamo. Bergamo, 1854, pp. 122–23 [see Ref. Zeri and Gardner 1986], mentions it in the collection of Federico Frizzoni, Bergamo, noting that it is held to be Moretto's last work.
Charles Lock Eastlake. Notebook entry. September 1, 1862, vol. 1, fol. 7r–8r [National Gallery Archive, London, NG 22/30: 1862 (I); published in Walpole Society 73 (2011), vol. 1, p. 595], describes seeing it at the Villa Frizzoni, Bellagio.
Giovanni Morelli. Elenco dei Quadri componenti la Galleria del Signor Federico Frizzoni. n.d., no. 33 [private collection, Bergamo; published in Ref. Anderson 1999], as "Deposizione della Croce" by Moretto.
Giovanni Battista Cavalcaselle. Unpublished manuscript. n.d.?, pp. 324–25 [Biblioteca Marciana, Venice, 2028/12269/V; see Ref. Zeri and Gardner 1986].
J[oseph]. A[rcher]. Crowe and G[iovanni]. B[attista]. Cavalcaselle. A History of Painting in North Italy: Venice, Padua, Vicenza, Verona, Ferrara, Milan, Friuli, Brescia, from the Fourteenth to the Sixteenth Century. London, 1871, vol. 2, p. 413, as in the Frizzoni collection, on Lake Como; call it "obviously a composition over which Moretto spent the last breath of his life"; note the influence of Pordenone; identify it as probably the painting described by Carboni [see Ref. 1760] in the Disciplina di San Giovanni.
G[ustavo]. Frizzoni. "Alessandro Bonvicino detto il Moretto, pittore bresciano, e le fonti storiche a lui riferentisi." Giornale di erudizione artistica 4 (June 1875), p. 179, as in the collection of Federico Frizzoni-Salis, Bergamo; identifies it as the work made for the Disciplina di San Giovanni, and notes that it is said to be the artist's last work.
Stefano Fenaroli. Alessandro Bonvicino sopranominato il Moretto, pittore bresciano. Brescia, 1875, pp. 25, 51, as in the Frizzoni collection of Bergamo, on Lake Como; calls it possibly the artist's last work; identifies it as definitely the painting described by Carboni [see Ref. 1760].
Stefano Fenaroli. Dizionario degli artisti bresciani. Bologna, 1877, pp. 53–54 [same text as Ref. Fenaroli 1875].
Pietro Da Ponte. Esposizione della pittura bresciana. Exh. cat., Ateneo. Brescia, 1878, p. 25 [see Ref. Zeri and Gardner 1986].
Ivan Lermolieff [Giovanni Morelli]. Die Werke italienischer Meister in den Galerien von München, Dresden, und Berlin. Leipzig, 1880, p. 441, as in the Frizzoni-Salis collection, Bergamo.
Gaetano Milanesi, ed. Le vite de' più eccellenti pittori, scultori, ed architettori. By Giorgio Vasari. Vol. 6, 1906 ed. Florence, 1881, p. 505 n. 1, as in the Galleria Frizzoni, Bergamo; calls it probably Moretto's last work.
Alfred Woltmann and Karl Woermann. Geschichte der Malerei. Vol. 2, Die Malerei der Renaissance. Leipzig, 1882, p. 779.
Fritz Harck. "Quadri di maestri italiani nelle gallerie private di Germania, III: la galleria Weber di Amburgo." Archivio storico dell'arte 4 (1891), p. 89.
Ivan Lermolieff [Giovanni Morelli]. Kunstkritische Studien über italienische Malerei. Vol. 3, Die Galerie zu Berlin. Leipzig, 1893, p. 109, as in the Weber collection, Hamburg.
Emil Jacobsen. "Die Gemälde der einheimischen Malerschule in Brescia." Jahrbuch der königlich preussischen Kunstsammlungen 17 (1896), p. 36.
P[ietro]. d[a] P[onte]. L'opera del Moretto. Brescia, 1898, pp. 91, 124, as in the Weber collection, Hamburg; as made for the Disciplina di San Giovanni.
Pietro Morelli. Di Alessandro Bonvicino di sopranome Moretto. Brescia, 1898, p. 21, as in the Villa Frizzoni, on Lake Como.
Pompeo Molmenti. Il Moretto da Brescia. Florence, 1898, pp. 83–84, 91.
Ugo Fleres. "La pinacoteca dell'Ateneo in Brescia." Gallerie nazionali italiane 4 (1899), pp. 265, 267, no. LXXVI, as formerly in the Frizzoni-Loris [sic] collection, Bellagio, and currently in the Weber collection, Hamburg.
Bernhard Berenson. North Italian Painters of the Renaissance. New York, 1907, p. 274.
Karl Woermann. Wissenschaftl. Verzeichnis der älteren Gemälde der Galerie Weber in Hamburg. 2nd ed. Dresden, 1907, pp. 121–22, no. 128, as acquired in 1885 through Ed. Habich, Kassel, from Fr. Frizzoni-Salis, Bergamo.
J[oseph]. A[rcher]. Crowe and G[iovanni]. B[attista]. Cavalcaselle. A History of Painting in North Italy: Venice, Padua, Vicenza, Verona, Ferrara, Milan, Friuli, Brescia, from the Fourteenth to the Sixteenth Century. Ed. Tancred Borenius. 2nd ed. [1st ed. 1871]. London, 1912, vol. 3, p. 301.
Paul Schubring. "La collezione Weber di Amburgo venduta a Berlino (Febbraio 1912)." L'arte 15 (1912), p. 142, fig. 3.
B[ryson]. B[urroughs]. "The Pietà by Moretto da Brescia." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 7 (June 1912), pp. 112–13.
Salomon Reinach. Répertoire de peintures du moyen age et de la renaissance (1280–1580). Vol. 4, Paris, 1918, p. 271, no. 1, ill. (engraving).
Giorgio Nicodemi. Il Moretto da Brescia. Florence, 1921, pp. 5, 13, erroneously as still in the Weber collection.
Giorgio Nicodemi. Gerolamo Romanino. Brescia, 1925, p. 55, ill. p. 53.
Adolfo Venturi. Storia dell'arte italiana. Vol. 9, part 4, La pittura del Cinquecento. Milan, 1929, pp. 198, 203 n. 1, fig. 174, erroneously dates it 1557.
Lionello Venturi. Pitture italiane in America. Milan, 1931, unpaginated, pl. CCCXCVI.
[Georg] Gronau inAllgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler. Ed. Hans Vollmer. Vol. 25, Leipzig, 1931, p. 140.
Bernhard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance. Oxford, 1932, p. 375, dates it much earlier than 1554.
Lionello Venturi. Italian Paintings in America. Vol. 3, Sixteenth to Eighteenth Century. New York, 1933, unpaginated, pl. 536.
Bernhard Berenson. Pitture italiane del rinascimento. Milan, 1936, p. 322.
Giorgio Nicodemi. Il Moretto da Brescia (Alessandro Bonvicino). Bergamo, 1936, pp. 6, 9.
Harry B. Wehle. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Italian, Spanish, and Byzantine Paintings. New York, 1940, pp. 161–62, ill., calls it probably the painting from the Disciplina di San Giovanni.
György Gombosi. Moretto da Brescia. Basel, 1943, pp. 57, 64, 90, 110, no. 157, fig. 104, identifies it as the painting from the Disciplina di San Giovanni, suggesting that the inscription means that Moretto died while working on it.
Camillo Boselli. Il Moretto, 1498–1554. Brescia, 1954, p. 116.
Camillo Boselli, ed. "Supplement: Bernardino Faino, Catalogo delle chiese di Brescia." Commentari dell'Ateneo di Brescia (1961), p. 147, identifies it as the picture described by Faino [see Ref. 1630–69].
Rossana Bossaglia inStoria di Brescia. Vol. 2, La dominazione veneta (1426–1575). [Brescia], 1963, p. 1081.
Bernard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Central Italian and North Italian Schools. London, 1968, vol. 1, p. 278.
S. J. Freedberg. Painting in Italy: 1500 to 1600. Harmondsworth, England, 1971, p. 250, calls it his last work.
Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972, pp. 145, 295, 297, 606, call it either an Entombment or a Lamentation.
Gaetano Panazza. San Giovanni in Brescia. Vol. 1, La "quadra", la parrocchia, il monastero, la chiesa. Brescia, 1975, p. 11, identifies it with the painting from the Disciplina di San Giovanni.
Howard Hibbard. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1980, pp. 257, 261, fig. 466.
Valerio Guazzoni. Moretto: il tema sacro. Brescia, 1981, p. 53, fig. 24.
Keith Christiansen inThe Age of Caravaggio. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1985, pp. 66–69, no. 7, ill. (overall in black and white, detail in color) [Italian ed., "Caravaggio e il suo tempo," Naples, 1985], identifies it with the painting recorded in the Disciplina di San Giovanni in the seventeenth century [see Ref. Faino 1630–69], adding that it was probably commissioned by the confraternity for that location; believes that the inscription was intended to present Christ as an exemplar.
Jaynie Anderson. "Introduction to the Travel Diary of Otto Mündler." Walpole Society 51 (1985), pp. 23–24, fig. 11.
Federico Zeri with the assistance of Elizabeth E. Gardner. Italian Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, North Italian School. New York, 1986, pp. 44–45, pl. 71.
[Francesco Frangi] inPittura del Cinquecento a Brescia. Milan, 1986, p. 182.
Andrea Bacchi et al. inLa pittura in Italia: il Cinquecento. Ed. Giuliano Briganti. revised and expanded ed. [Milan], 1988, vol. 2, p. 457.
Pier Virgilio Begni Redona. Alessandro Bonvicino: il Moretto da Brescia. Brescia, 1988, pp. 60, 514–17, no. 135, ill. (color, overall and detail).
Pier Virgilio Begni Redona inAlessandro Bonvicino: il Moretto. Exh. cat., Monastero di S. Giulia, Brescia. Bologna, 1988, p. 53, ill. p. 52.
Bruno Passamani inAlessandro Bonvicino: il Moretto. Exh. cat., Monastero di S. Giulia, Brescia. Bologna, 1988, p. 22, mentions it among works from the Brognoli collection.
Andrea Bayer inThe Dictionary of Art. Ed. Jane Turner. Vol. 22, New York, 1996, p. 109.
Jaynie Anderson. "Frizzoneria in Bergamo." Ex Fumo Lucem: Baroque Studies in Honour of Klára Garas. Vol. 2, Budapest, 1999, pp. 239–41, 246, 251, publishes an undated inventory of the collection of Federico Frizzoni-Salis by Giovanni Morelli; provides biographical information on the Frizzoni family.
Andrea Bayer. "North of the Apennines: Sixteenth-Century Italian Painting in Lombardy and Emilia-Romagna." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 60 (Spring 2003), pp. 26, 30, fig. 22 (color), notes that it "probably left the oratory when the confraternity that had commissioned it was suppressed in 1771".
Andrea Bayer inPainters of Reality: The Legacy of Leonardo and Caravaggio in Lombardy. Ed. Andrea Bayer. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2004, p. 111, fig. 55 [Italian ed., "Pittori della realtà: le ragioni di una rivoluzione da Foppa e Leonardo a Caravaggio e Ceruti," (Milan), 2004, p. 129, fig. 8].
Nicholas Penny. The Sixteenth Century Italian Paintings. Vol. 1, Paintings from Bergamo, Brescia and Cremona. London, 2004, pp. 145, 147–49 n. 10, p. 150 n. 42, fig. 3 (color).
Andrea Bayer. "Collecting North Italian Paintings at The Metropolitan Museum of Art." A Market for Merchant Princes: Collecting Italian Renaissance Paintings in America. Ed. Inge Reist. University Park, Pa., 2015, pp. 84, 86, fig. 35 (color).
The frame is Venetian (or may be from Lombardy) and dates to as early as 1560 (see Additional Images, figs. 1–3). This cassetta or box frame is made of poplar and is carved and water gilded as well as painted. The inner molding or sight edge has acanthus and twisted ribbon ornament. The flat plate is decorated with a blue painted cauliculi or vine leaf pattern on a gold ground using the sgraffito technique where the paint has been scratched through to reveal the gold. The outer molding has an acanthus pattern which steps down to an egg-and-dart pattern at the back edge. The surface retains an early thick coating which darkens the gilding and visually transforms the blue paint to a brown color. The frame has been enlarged on its sides and base to accommodate this painting.
[Timothy Newbery with Cynthia Moyer 2015; further information on this frame can be found in the Department of European Paintings files]
Artist: After Moretto da Brescia (Alessandro Bonvicino) (Italian, Brescia ca. 1498–1554 Brescia)Date: 1498–1554Medium: Black chalk, highlighted with white, on blue paperAccession: 1975.131.38On view in:Not on view