Work Lamentation over the Body of Christ
Department of Prints and Drawings: 16th century
Lamentation sur le corps du Christ
Prints and Drawings
In 1453 and for some time afterwards, the young Giovanni Bellini was much influenced by his brother-in-law, Andrea Mantegna, but he went on to develop the freely expressive personal style exemplified by this Lamentation over the Body of Christ. He returned to this subject all his life, leaving several drawn and painted Pietàs, of which the most famous is the painting in the Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan.
A work that weeps
"HAEC FERE QUUM GEMITUS TURGENTIA LUMINA PROMANT / BELLINI POTERAT FLERE IONNIS OPUS" ("If these suffering eyes almost wrench tears from you, Bellini's picture weeps itself.") Taken from Propertius (Elegies I, XXI, 3), this citation is painted as a title plaque at the base of the Pietà in the Brera in Milan. Many earlier commentators linked the Louvre drawing to this masterpiece, but the formal differences have led critics to see them as two distinct works. Nonetheless, the words accompanying the Brera work point up the artist's profound attachment to a visual style - also that of the Louvre drawing - that emphasizes pathos. The intense emotion visible here stems from the figures' "involvement in suffering," as revealed by their gestures and facial expressions.
Set on a long, rigid support - the tombstone? - Christ's body is held upright by the Virgin Mary on the right and St John on the left. The legs are foreshortened and the depth of field accentuated by the inert arm on the edge of the sarcophagus and the small bottle of ointment. Mary Magdalene kneels on the right, hands joined and almost in profile in relation to the other three figures. Her pose stresses the image's diagonal thrust, which is further emphasized by the angle of Christ's head and torso, the Virgin's arm holding his body, and the distancing of St John's shoulders. With its focal point set in the left-hand part of the sheet, the composition is imbued with the emotional dialogue taking place: the body of Christ is surrounded by a cadence of curves that seems to magnify the suffering and tender grief of the other figures.
Variations on a masterpiece
The Lamentation over the Body of Christ presents a number of remarkable graphic details, among them the fine concentrated hatching that shows Christ's body at once vigorous and deprived of its inner élan. In the dark areas the strokes become larger and more summary, and there are signs of retouching, as in St John's right hand. This is a late work by Bellini, with a suggested dating to the early 16th century; 1510 would seem to be the outer limit, given the established connection with two other sketches using the same figures, one in the British Museum, London, and the other in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rennes, France.
BibliographyR. Bacou, Dessins du Louvre, Ecole italienne, Paris, Flammarion, 1968, entry 6.
P. Humfrey, in Pinacoteca di Brera, Scuola veneta, F. Zeri, Electa, 1990, pp. 52-54, entry 21.
W. R. Rearick, in Le Siècle de Titien: L'âge d'or de la peinture à Venise, Exhibition catalogue, Paris, France, Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, RMN, 1993, pp. 275-276, entry 9.
Giovanni Bellini (Venice, c. 1431-1516)
Lamentation over the Body of Christ
Pen and sepia ink on paper, arched top
H. 0.130 m; W. 0.183 m
Collection of Giuseppe Vallardi (1784-1863); collection of Aimé-Charles-Horace His de La Salle; donated by Aimé-Charles-Horace His de La Salle, 1878
Due to their fragility, works on paper are not on permanent display in the museum.
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