The small Pietà by Domenichino acquired by the Met

1. Domenico Zampieri called
Domenichino (1581-1641)
Pietà, 1603-1604
Oil on copper - 52.4 x 39.1 cm
New York, Metropolitan Museum
Photo : Christie’s London

24/6/08 — Acquisition — New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art — On 5 July 2007, Christie’s London presented a small Pietà by Domenichino on copper [1] (ill. 1) as the star of its summer sale of old masters by placing it on the catalogue cover. It sold at £3,044,000. British authorities then attempted to keep it and find a museum interested in buying it. But their efforts were in vain [2]. The export certificate was issued in May 2008 and the painting has entered the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The composition is based on an altarpiece of large format by Annibale Carracci held at the Musée du Louvre (ill. 2), commissioned in 1602 by Cardinal Odoardo Farnèse for the Mattei Chapel in San Francesco a Ripa [3]. That year, the young Domenico Zampieri had just arrived from Bologna to help Annibale with the frescoes in the Farnèse palace. He strove to outshine the other students and produced several copies after compositions by the master (The Adoration of the Shepherds in Edinburgh, The Virgin of Silence at the Louvre, Susanna and the Elders at the Doria-Pamphili Gallery in Rome). The Pietà, which for many years was attributed to Annibale, was in fact executed by Domenichino while working in his master’s workshop, around 1603. Under his brush, the monumental and austere pala is transformed into a luminous devotional work, revealing the artist’s virtuosity thanks also to the copper support. The main variation between the two works is the replacement of Saint Francis by Joseph of Arimathea, as well as the very different formats. This seems to reflect Annibale’s first intention for his altarpiece, as proven by the drawing from the Jewish museum in Vevey which shows the biblical figure and not Francis (an x-ray of the painting at the Louvre in 1994 however did not reveal any repentir and hence did not confirm this hypothesis). The name of the first owner of this work is not known. In the 18th century, it was listed in Georges Aufrère’s important collection in Chelsea. Through his daughter’s marriage it was passed on to the family of the barons, then the counts of Yarborough until the sale in 2007 [4].

2. Annibale Carracci (1590-1609)
Pietà with Saint Francesco and
Mary Magdalen
, c. 1602-1607
Oil on canvas - 277 x 186 cm
Paris, Musée du Louvre
Photo : RMN

3. Ludovico Carracci (1655-1619)
Madonna and Child with Saints, 1607
Oil on copper - 29.8 x 25 cm
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Photo : Metropolitan Museum

The Met owns another small copper by Domenichino, acquired in 1976, Moses and the Burning Bush, but which is very different since it is more characteristic of his contribution to the creation of the classic landscape. Previous news items (3/2/06 - in French on La Tribune de l’Art - and 10/3/08) had already pointed out the Met’s interest in enriching its Italian Baroque collections. Unlike major European establishments, this museum owns few Bolognese paintings from the 17th century. When the collection was developed, between 1900 and 1960, regard for this school had diminished, and was considered as too academic for modern taste. Since then, Denis Mahon along with other scholars have rehabilitated it and the Met has been attempting to fill in the gaps with acquisitions such as The Lamentation by Ludovico Carracci in 2000 and The Last Communion of Saint Mary of Egypt by Marcantonio Franceschini in 1996. In 2007, it received a donation from the Fisch family of a small Madonna by Ludovico Carracci [5] (ill. 3).

Version française

Michel de Piles, dimanche 29 juin 2008


[1] Stéphane Loire, Musée du Louvre, Département des Peintures, Ecole italienne XVIIe siècle, I, Bologne, Paris, 1996, p. 136, fig. 53. P.J. Cooney and G. Malafarina, L’opera completa di Annibale Carracci, Milan, 1976, sous le n°128 and fig. 128.1. Richard Spear, Domenichino, New Haven and London, 1982, vol. 1, pp. 10, 49, 131, n° 9 ; vol. 2, pl. 10.

[2] Last chance to save a very beautiful devotional painting by Domenico Zampieri for the nation.

[3] The execution was arduous and lasted until 1607, at which time it was placed above the altar, as Annibale had entrusted part of the production to his students.

[4] After WWII, it was sold and then bought back by the family at Colnaghi’s.

[5] This exquisite little painting, done for Cardinal Benedetto Giustiniani, left the family at the end of the 18th century and was held in the 19th and 20th centuries in England. In 2001, it was sold by Simon Dickinson, the art dealer, to Mark Fisch.

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