Veronese Mantegnesque Master
(Active in Verona, second half of XV century)
Lamentation with Christ Beneath the Cross, c. 1480
oil and tempera on parchment, glued on panel, 35,4 x 26 cm (13.94 x 10.24 inches)
- Reference: 734
- Provenance: London (?), Sir Rex de Charembac Nan Kivell (born Reginald Nankivell); Birmingham, Lancelot Key collection
Exhibition of Italian Art 1955, p. 16, cat. 27 (as Bernardino Butinone), Birmingham 1955, cat. 27
The painting is in a good state of preservation. Only a few lacks of colour are visible on the garment of the female figure keeling on the right. Carlotta Beccaria’s 2018 restoration revealed the refinement of the colour combinations, particularly remarkable in the paling colours of the sky at dusk. The scene depicts an original version of the theme of the deposition of Christ: the Virgin holds the body of Christ as in the Nordic iconography of the Vesperbildor Pietà; many characters surround the holy episode: the Three Marys, Saint John, Mary Magdalene, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus are easily recognisable.
Reflectography revealed the underdrawing and the inscription on the scroll at the top of the cross. In particular, the analysis showed a pentimento on the crossbeam,visible to the naked eye, which was designed in origin to be slightly lower (fig. 1).
The painting was exhibited for the first time at the “Exhibition of Italian Art” in Birmingham in 1955. At that time it was owned by Lancelot Key, a local collector who donated a number of brasses from his collection to the Birmingham School of Music. With regards to its collecting history, it is important to underline the previous provenance of this artwork from the collection of Sir Rex de Charembac Nan Kivell, born Reginald Nankivell (1898-1977). He was a New Zealander stationed in London collector, who stood out for his sensibility as an art collector and dealer of the greatest painters of the early XX century, such as Bonnard, Soutine, Picasso and Max Ernst, just to mention the greatest.
In the catalogue of the exhibition in Birmingham, the Lamentation with Christ beneath the Cross was attributed to Bernardino Butinone (doc. 1438/39 – 1510) due to the manifest connections with the Mantegnesque culture that characterised the painter from Bergamo during his early activity. The analysis of these aspects led to suggest a stay of the painter in Verona that could explain his deep knowledge of the triptych Andrea Mantegna painted between 1457 and 1459 for the main altar of the Church of San Zeno in Verona (A. Bacchi, In pittura … 1994, pp. 16-25).
This idea was confirmed by a paper which I have studied (Vinco 2006, pp. 85-90). It is a summary of the 18thcentury from an original documentation of the 15thcentury regarding artworks commissioned both for the Church of San Zeno Maggiore and the chapel of San Dionigi in Parona. This little holy site is located on the western outskirts of Verona and at that time was ruled by Benedictine monastery of San Zeno Maggiore.
The two commissions go back to 1476. The papers recall that "Donatus, dipinse la Palla dell'Altar nuovo, Bernardino pitor aggiutò al suddeto Donato a dipinger la detta Palla per alcune giornate" e Bernardino suddetto dipinse il piede della suddetta Palla con Istorie" (“Donatus painted the altarpiece of the new altar, Bernardino helped the aforementioned Donato to paint the aforementioned altarpiece for some days” and “aforementioned Bernardino painted the lower part of the aforementioned altarpiece with Stories”). The documentation remembers also that "detto Bernardino dipinse la Palla della Chiesa di San Dionisio, il volto della Cappella, la Statua di detto Santo et la figura della Beata Vergine sopra la loza della detta Chiesa" (“the aforementioned Bernardino painted the altarpiece of the Church of San Dioniso, the façade of the Chapel, the Statue of said Saint and the figure of the Holy Virgin above the loggia of the the aforementioned Church”). Luciano Rognini’s identification of the triptych with an artwork the Erbisti family sold in 1900 to the Cuzzieri family, and later part of the Gualino collection in Cereseto Monferrato and the Arnoldo Schubert collection in Milan (fig. 2), led De Marchi (2006) to identify the painter called Bernardino, active in the abbey of San Zeno and author of the tryptich in Parona, as Bernardino Butinone.
On that occasion, De Marchi rightly related the tryptich in Parona to a Crucifixion at that time property of the antique dealer Marco Voena, which was previously held in the B. Mortimer collection and then sold on a Christie’s auction in New York, 19 May 1993, lot 30. Both Butinone’s works show in fact a close connection to Andrea Mantegna’s predella for the altarpiece of San Zeno (fig. 3), that in some extent also characterizes our Lamentation with Christ beneath the Cross, as it presents similar rocks on the foreground and a ground covered with pebbles. To different degrees, Mantegna’s altarpiece had an impact on all Veronese painters active in the second half of the XV century. For instance it is worth mentioning the 1462 triptych by Francesco Benaglio (circa 1432 – 1492) on the high altar of the Franciscan Church of San Bernardino in Verona, which was literally drawn from Mantegna’s triptych in San Zeno Maggiore. I strongly believe that a Crucifixion previously in the Rudolph Kann collection also belongs to the early stage of Benaglio’s production. It was auctioned at the American Art Association (on 7th January 1927, lot 46) as work attributed to Domenico Morone (1442 – after 1518) by Bernard Berenson (fig. 4), but I think he was painted by Benaglio when he was most under the influence of Mantegna’s manner. This panel should have been painted before the triptych of San Bernardino, in close relationship to the Imago Pietatis Miklós Boskovits assigned him (in Italian Paintings 2003, p.98), sold at a Sotheby’s auction in New York, 27 January 2011, lot 136). A quite lively Mantegnesque environment, in which our Lamentation with Christ beneath the Cross finds its proper location, can be outlined with the correct identification of Bernardino Butinone’s presence in Verona and studying a number of less-known Veronese paintings scattered in various private collections.
The “Vesperbild” iconographic representation of the Deposition of Christ recalls various Nordic examples known in the city from the XIV century (Vinco 2011). This theme became popular especially in the cities along the Adige river, the natural line of communication with the Northern regions, used by both local painters and sculptors. Particularly relevant are the similarities between the “Vesperbild” at the centre of the composition and that of the Museo Giovanni Battista Cavalcaselle at Juliet’s grave in Verona, datable to circa 1447 and previously decorating the door of the Domus Pietatis, always in Verona (fig. 5-6) (Varanini 1996, p.41).
What also connects the small panel to Verona’s milieu is its comparison with some particularly “crowded” Crucifixions, whose prototypes are those of Altichiero for the chapel of San Giacomo al Santo (1376 – circa 1379) and the Oratorio of San Giorgio in Padua (1379 - circa 1384). Examples of the success in Verona of these crucifixions are Turone’s fresco on the counter façade of the Church of San Fermo Maggiore (circa 1385), a small circa 1380-1390 Veronese panel, previously in the Fabrizio Moretti collection (De Marchi, in The Middle Ages… 2011, pp. 102-109), and a mid-XIV century drawing of The Cleveland Museum of Art (acc. No. 56.43) (fig. 7). With regards to our research, this drawing is very important as it has been documented in Verona since ancient times as part of the drawing album of Antonio II and Antonio III Badile, active in one of the city’s most successful workshops between 15thand 16thcentury. The critique history of the drawing revolves around the names of Altichiero and Butinone; today, a more correct dating to the mid 15thcentury is suggested (A. Schmitt-Degenhart, in Degenhart, Schmitt 2010, pp. 293-294, cat. 836). It is thanks to this very drawing that a correct interpretation of the figure on the right side of our painting, thoughtfully gazing towards the viewer, was possible. Seemingly out of context, this figure was actually drawn from the iconographic theme of the group of soldiers gambling for Christ’s garments (fig. 8).
These are not the only aspect supporting the Veronese provenance of our parchment on panel depicting the Lamentation with Christ beneath the Cross.With this regards, it is useful also to mention two remarkably interesting miniatures attributed to the Mantegnesque artist Francesco dai Libri (circa 1450 – 1506): the Burial of Christ at the Courtauld Art Gallery in London (inv. D.1978.Pg.346; cm 17.1 x 12) and a Lamentationat the Cleveland Museum of Art (inv. 1951.34; cm 14 x 9.3) (fig. 9-10), which, I believe, is actually an early masterpiece of his son, Girolamo (circa 1474 – 1555), connected with the grisaille attributed to Benardino Butinone (London, British Museum, inv. 1902-8-22-3; cm 12.4 x 10.1) (Castiglioni 1986, pp. 83-85, fig. 111.49-50; 1996). If both sheets were clearly cut off from illustrated manuscripts, as attested by the presence of a blue frame along the sides, they are useful examples of the monumental development of Veronese miniature along with our panel.
With our current knowledge on Veronese Mantegnesque artists, it is difficult to safely suggest an attribution. Undoubtedly, the author of our Lamentation with Christ beneath the Crosswas fully influenced by the Mantegna. This fact allows us to date this work to circa 1480. The best comparisons can be made with Francesco dai Libri’scorpus of miniatures, especially with the Greek and Latin Psalter of the Biblioteca Trivulziana in Milan (Cod. 2161), datable to circa 1480-1490. The most representative illumination of this manuscript is the Carrying of the Ark, where crushed rocks limit the composition on the foreground, as in many Mantegnesque paintings in Verona. Furthermore, the scene is set within a background with mountains, amongst which a luxurious nature finds its space. This choice reveals a close contact between the greatest Mantegnesque miniature painter, Francesco dai Libri, and the anonymous author of our Lamentation with Christ beneath the Cross (fig. 11-12).
An hypothesis yet to confirm: it is my belief that we should keep into consideration the possibility that the author of this panel could be the little-known artist Jacopo da Verona, documented in two 1472 and 1483 registries in Verona and who died before 1492 (Castiglioni 1986, pp. 59-60). Unfortunately, we only know his activity thanks two manuscripts of Petrarca of 1459 (Vienna, Nationalbibliothek cod. 2649) and 1460 (Dresda, Sachsische Landesbibliothek, Ob 26), and a Psalter of 1459 held at the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (Barb. Lat. 482). Nonetheless, we could suggest that Jacopo da Verona, once back in his native city, continued painting works such as our Lamentation with Christ beneath the Cross.
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