Bartolomeo Vivarini

(Venice c. 1430 – after 1491)

Christ the Man of Sorrows, c. 1490

Tempera on panel, gold ground, 48 x 48 cm (18.90 x 18.90 inches)

  • Reference: 819
  • Provenance: Private collection
  • Note:

    No Italian Export License


R. Pallucchini, Giunte ai Vivarini, in “Arte veneta”, XXI, 1967, pp. 200-206 (p. 202, fig. 255)
F. Zeri, Antonio e Bartolomeo Vivarini: il polittico del 1451 già in San Francesco a Padova, in “Antichità viva”, 1975, 4, pp. 3-10 (pp. 8, 10, fig 13)
U. Ruggeri, Una “Imago Pietatis” di Bartolomeo Vivarini, in “Antichità viva”, 1993, 6, pp. 51-53 (pp. 51-52, fig. 1)
G. Fossaluzza, Un’inedita Imago pietatis di Bartolomeo Vivarini nell’ultima stagione, in Il tempo e la rosa. Scritti di storia dell’arte in onore di Loredana Olivato, Treviso 2013, p. 232.
A. Fiore, La pittura veneta in Puglia nel Cinquecento, PHD Diss., Lecce 2017, pp. 42-43, figs. 33-34

Zeri Photographic Library
no. 25008

Christ is depicted in the traditional pose of the Man of Sorrows but his open arms serve to display the wounds on his hands and on his ribcage with even greater eloquence than would be the case in the more usual pose, in which his forearms are crossed – see, for example, Antonio Vivarini's panel of the Redeemer also on display in this exhibition –, and at the same time the sculptural energy with which the figure emerges from the tomb imparts a feeling of distinctly human pain far removed from any kind of formal affectation.
The painting – probably the most important work of Bartolomeo Vivarini's maturity[1] not in a public collection today – has been known to scholars for some time. Formerly the property of Baron Michele Angelo Lazzaroni in Rome, the panel passed through Ercole Canessa's gallery before entering a private collection. It was in the latter collection that the picture was studied by Rodolfo Pallucchini[2], who detected features akin to those of the cusp on the Sanseverino polyptych which Bartolomeo painted for the monastery of San Bernardino da Siena in Morano Calabro in 1477[3]. Pallucchini deduced from this that the panel under discussion in this paper must be "a precious fragment of a similar polyptych, now lost," and that it may considered akin to the cusp of the triptych in the Basilica of Santa Maria dei Frari in Venice by virtue of the pose showing the arms held out rather than crossed. In Federico Zeri's view, the polyptych mooted by Pallucchini should be identified as the lost polyptych that originally stood in the Franciscan convent church of Santa Maria Vetere in Andria[4]. Only three panels of this major monumental complex have survived (and have been arbitrarily reassembled in the form of a triptych in the Pinacoteca Metropolitana in Bari) but the original work unquestionably comprised far more panels than the three survivors if we consider that the altarpiece must have had at least two registers if not more. The central panel (which Zeri argues stood directly beneath our Christ the Man of Sorrows) portrays St. Francis of Assisi and is signed and dated 1483 at the base of the figure[5]
Ugo Ruggeri, who discusses the issue in a monographic article[6], questions Zeri's assumption, arguing that the Andria polyptych's cusp should be identified as another version of the same subject, Christ the Man of Sorrows, which he published and which also appears to bear a greater morphological similarity to the altarpiece's surviving panels, for instance in the silhouette of the upper part. Thus according to Ruggeri, our painting is the cusp of a polyptych by Bartolomeo which we are no longer able to identify today but which must have been painted in the same period, i.e. c. 1485. The most recent discussions involving the panel are those of Giorgio Fossaluzza[7] – who revealed a previously unpublished Christ the Man of Sorrows by Bartolomeo which he suggests is the cusp of another lost polyptych, also from Calabria – and of Andrea Fiore[8], who essentially agree with Zeri and thus consider that our panel once formed part of the Andria polyptych.
While by no means wishing to offer the definitive solution to such a long-debated problem, we can nevertheless put forward certain hypotheses prompted by a comparison of the painting with works which Bartolomeo Vivarini produced in the 1480s, a decade marked (initially, at least) by a conscious return on the painter's part to forms of the past. Aware that he could never compete with the easy luminosity that imbued the work Giovanni Bellini was producing at the time, Bartolomeo locked into a "stony obsession", as Mauro Lucco so effectively puts it, whose fundamental stylistic feature was a "sculptural ferocity" harking back to Donatello, to Mantegna's time in Padua and to the Ferrarese school[9]. This approach can be seen in such panels as his St. Roch in the church of Sant’Eufemia on the Giudecca[10], his Calabrian polypytychs – in addition to the Morano Calabro polyptych, there exists another polyptych which he painted for the church of San Giorgio in Zumpano[11] – and the Frari altarpiece dated 1482. The Andria polyptych, painted the following year, appears in the surviving panels in the Pinacoteca in Bari and in the Christ the Man of Sorrows published by Ruggeri to reflect the formal approach of this phase in full. Yet soon after, in fact as early as the polyptych for the church of Sant'Andrea ad Arbe[12] dated 1485 and now in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, we see a relaxation of the expressive, linear vigour that had been such a feature of his work in the years immediately prior to that date. It is almost as though Bartolomeo were seeking to draw closer to the art of Antonello da Messina, albeit at second hand through the work of his nephew Alvise. This gradual change of mood is already apparent in the Melzi d'Eril Polyptych dated 1486[13] – despatched to the church of San Giuliano in Albino, near Bergamo, whence it entered the collection of Francesco Melzi d’Eril and is now in the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana in Milan – and is even more marked in the Scanzo Polyptych which Bartolomeo painted for the parish church of that village in the Val Seriana in 1488 (and which is now in the Accademia Carrara in Bergamo)[14]
So while the Andria "triptych" seems to be consistent with Bartolomeo's style in 1480–5, our cusp would appear to be closer in feel to the more relaxed approach that he adopted in the years thereafter (whence the suggested date of c. 1490) and stands more apt comparison both with the figures of St. Sebastian in the Melzi d'Eril Polyptych and in the Torre Boldone Triptych – also now in the Accademia Carrara and dated 1491 – and, even more cogently, with the Crucifix in the Holy Trinity at the top of the Scanzo Polyptych. The bust of Christ stands out against the gold ground with confident perspectival vigour in the tradition of Donatello, yet the slanting light that defines Christ's profile clearly reveals Bartolomeo's effort to keep abreast of innovations in the closing years of his career. As we have seen, the key to this effort lay in the emergence of the young Alvise as the now mature leader of the Murano workshop. Alvise was some fifteen years younger than Bartolomeo and, quite reasonably, better prepared than either his uncle or his father Antonio to build into his style the innovative developments that he acquired from a familiarity with the work being done by the younger generation of painters from Venice and elsewhere. Thus the light of Antonello and of Giovanni Bellini, albeit in a considerably colder and more unreal variant, began to illuminate the figures in the ageing Bartolomeo's final altarpieces, and our panel, thanks also to its perfect condition permitting an accurate stylistic analysis, is a flawless testimonial to that transition.

[1] The literature on the artist is, of course, extensive. For a complete catalogue of his works seek Rodolfo Pallucchini's monograph on the Murano painters and Rebecca Müller's more recent work: R. Pallucchini, I Vivarini (Antonio, Bartolomeo, Alvise), Venezia 1961; R. Müller, Die Vivarini. Bildproduktion in Venedig 1440 bis 1505, Regensburg 2021.
[2] R. Pallucchini, Giunte ai Vivarini, in “Arte veneta”, XXI, 1967, p. 202, fig. 255.
[3] On the Morano Calabro polyptych see Pallucchini op. cit., 1961, p. 124, n. 183; P. Porchi Provazza, Un polittico di Bartolomeo Vivarini in Morano Calabro, Reggio Calabria 1985.
[4] F. Zeri, Antonio e Bartolomeo Vivarini: il polittico del 1451 già in San Francesco a Padova, in “Antichità viva”, 1975, 4, p. 8.
[5] C. Gelao, in La Pinacoteca Provinciale di Bari. Opere dall’XI al XVIII secolo, ed. C. Gelao, Rome 1998, pp. 102-104, n. 5; C. Gelao, I Vivarini in Puglia. Diffusione e committenza, in I Vivarini. Lo splendore della pittura tra Gotico e Rinascimento, ed. G.D. Romanelli, exhibition catalogue (Conegliano, Palazzo Sarcinelli, 20/2 – 5/6/2016), Venice 2016, pp. 58-77 (p. 68).
[6] U. Ruggeri, Una “Imago Pietatis” di Bartolomeo Vivarini, in “Antichità viva”, 1993, 6, pp. 51-53.
[7] G. Fossaluzza, Un’inedita Imago pietatis di Bartolomeo Vivarini nell’ultima stagione, in Il tempo e la rosa. Scritti di storia dell’arte in onore di Loredana Olivato, Treviso 2013, pp. 230-235 (p. 232).
[8] A. Fiore, La pittura veneta in Puglia nel Cinquecento, PhD Dissertation, Lecce University, 2016/2017, pp. 42-43.
[9] M. Lucco, Venezia, in La pittura nel Veneto. Il Quattrocento, Milan 1990, II, pp. 395-480 (p. 452).
[10] Pallucchini op. cit., 1961, p. 126, n. 193
[11] G. De Leonardis, Un tesoro d’arte veneto in terra di Calabria. Il Trittico di Bartolomeo Vivarini a Zumpano, Bari 2010.
[12] Pallucchini op. cit., 1961, p. 127, n. 201.
[13] G. Fossaluzza, in Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, I, Dipinti dal medioevo alla metà del Cinquecento, Milan 2005, pp. 297-305, n. 119.
[14] G. Valagussa, in I Vivarini op. cit., 2016, pp. 143-144, n. 18.


More information