P.20 Christ in Glory

P.20 Christ in Glory

1528; 1529–1530

Città di Castello, Cathedral.

Panel (poplar), 345 x 2581 (the four corners cut, see below).

Fig.P.20b bw
Fig.P.20c woman in blue
Fig.P.20d bw, Moor, child
Fig.P.20e woman in yellow

Rosso’s painting underwent seven months of restoration prior to its appearance in the exhibition “Metodo e Scienza: operatività e ricerca nel restauro” held in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence between 23 June 1982 and 6 January 1983.  The reports of the restoration by Umberto Baldini, Gianni Marussich, the restorer of the wood support, and Nicoletta Bracci, the painting restorer who was responsible for the last phase of cleaning and restoring the picture, appear in the catalogue of this exhibition, Baldini, 1982, 96–99, Color plates XLVIII–XLIX; repeated in Darragon, 1983, 89–92, Figs. 2–3, Color plates A–D, where the length of time of the restoration is mentioned, and two other restorers are named, Dr. Ornella Casazza and Paola Bracco, who began the removal of the old repaint.  The following is a summary of the three reports.  The panel, composed of nine planks, was is bad condition due to the separation of the planks and to splits and breaks in the wood, some of which remain from the damage to the panel inflicted before Rosso painted upon it confirming Vasari’s story about the fall of a roof on the panel as it was being gessoed (see below).  The panel is also warped.  On the back new crossbars were fitted into the original tracks, and the cracks and fissures were repaired with triangular dowels of poplar.  New unenclosed crossbars were added to impede further change of the curvature of the panel.  The edges of the panel have not been cut, but the corners have been cut off (on which, see PROVENANCE below).  The painted surface of the picture was in a bad state of preservation due to the lifting of paint, to the loss of paint in places, to drastic earlier cleanings, to heavy earlier repainting, to the “wrinkling” of the paint, to dirt, and to the darkening of varnishes of various thicknesses.  Some parts of the original surface were irremediably damaged.  The cleaning of the picture has now made visible what remains of the original surface.  The pictorial surface was consolidated with watercolor in the areas of loss but the abraded areas were left untouched.  [The lower half of St. Anne’s face, her neck, and her body above her hands are very much abraded.]  The original medium is rich in oil.  The all-over ground of the painting is a transparent blackish brown.  On this ground the striated pearl gray sky was painted with rapidly applied long and broad brush strokes.  The face of the standing figure at the far right is entirely the result of an earlier repainting and was not removed, as was all the other repaint, because nothing of the original was found underneath it and it was thought that what appears may imitate to some extent what Rosso painted here.

As pointed out by Nicoletta Bracci in her report (see above) the picture is painted on a blackish brown ground.  This gives to the painting an all-over penumbra, similar to that of the Sansepolcro Pietà, into which color disappears and from which it appears to rise.  The clouds are various values of gray through which the brownish background can be seen.  Mary Magdalen at the upper left has a red-orange skirt; the drapery at her left elbow is the same red.  Her upper garment is dark and light gray.  The Virgin next to her wears dark red drapery on her head.  Her dress is violet with a tan belt.  The mantle over her legs and falling down her back is dark green (originally blue?).  Christ’s flesh is slightly lavender.  His drapery is gray green with a gray sash.  St. Anne is almost entirely covered by a tan mantle; her sleeves are dark green with white puffs at the elbows.  St. Mary the Egyptian wears a gray upper garment with a tan strap; her skirt is pink, turning dark pink and then rose near the bottom; over it is a dark lavender sash.  At the bottom, beneath the Magadalen and along the left edge of the painting is a dark brown-black panel; as it seems to have moldings it may be a door frame (Darragon, 1983, 67, saw a door here), otherwise it would be the end section of a wall.  To the right of it, and farther back, in brownish monochrome, is a head with a high forehead seen from the front, and what seems to be a second head seen three-quarters from the left.  Darragon, 1983, 59, says there is a woman here seen from the back and holding a child; Franklin, 1994, saw a male nude seen from the back.  In the foreground at the lower left the black man, seated with his legs spread apart, wears a gray turban with red, blue, and yellow stripes.  Over his torso he wears a green shirt.  There are folds of white drapery around his upper right arm (also white folds on the other side of his torso where there appears another larger passage of what seems to be the same green drapery as that of his shirt).  There is orange drapery over the inner part of his upper thighs, and white drapery over his groin.  He wears brown buskins with a dark tan band around his right leg just below the knee.  The standing woman with the nude child wears a light gray green turban.  Her upper garment is yellow tan worn over gray drapery that is visible at the neck and at the top of her right arm. Her skirt is brown-violet with a violet rose highlight.  Immediately to the right of her neck is the full face of a man with large gray moustaches.  The lower part of this male figure appears just to the right of the woman’s skirt where can be seen one of his legs covered by an orange-tan buskin with brown bands and with a small piece of dark green drapery above it.  The bare chested soldier wears a steely blue helmet with a “gold” piece of decoration on the top.  He carries a bundle of gray drapery.  One of his bare legs is visible below this drapery.  The seated woman next to him wears a tan garment with white folds at the elbows.  There is red-orange drapery over her lap, and a piece of light green drapery at her thigh.  At her side is a bundle of gray cloth(?) on top of a brown basket(?) out of which projects the heads of chickens and/or roosters with red combs and wattles.  The woman seen from the back wears a dark bluish green mantle over a gray-white dress.  She has gray ribbons and strings of pink coral beads in her brown hair.  The baby she holds is covered with gray-white material and wears a tight fitting cap.  Next to this woman is an old man with a long beard wearing a tall hat (mitre?) with a thin red rim at his forehead.  Part of his pink-lavender mantle is visible at his shoulder and at the bottom of the picture.  The young man at the far right (whose face is entirely the result of an earlier repainting; see above) has blond curly hair; he wears a light green mantle over bare legs, of which only the right is wholly visible.

PROVENANCE: Vasari (see below) states that the picture was painted for Città di Castello, but he does not say for what location.  The document of commission of 1528 (see below) specifies that the painting was ordered by the Compagnia del Corpus Domini and for their chapel that was to be built, but the actual location of this chapel is not indicated.  Titi, 1686, 384, 442–443, 448 places the picture in the cathedral and in the new chapel of the Holy Sacrament that was consecrated 20 June 1685.  This is the large chapel that extends from the middle of the right side of the nave of the church where Rosso’s altarpiece was again placed after its recent restoration.  Before this restoration it hung high on the east wall of the chapel that forms the left transept of the cathedral.  It seems that this is the chapel that Titi, 1686, 448, identifies as the former chapel of the Holy Sacrament where Rosso’s picture once hung, and hence it would seem the original chapel of the Compagnia del Corpus Domini.  This is also implied as the original location of Rosso’s painting in a document of 3 September 1685 (see below), after it had been moved to the new chapel, by the phrase stating that Rosso’s “quadro stava per prima nella cappella del SSmo Sagramento nella chiesa superiore a cornu Evangelii,…” Franklin, 1994, 185, believes the information we have indicates a chapel to the left of the congregation, opposite the still existing sacristy and stairs, suggesting that the altar was in one of the monumental arches of the end [north] or high altar side [east] of the cathedral transept, adding that in the mid-seventeenth century a description places it in the left transept.  I think this is the same location that I suggest.  Titi, 1686, 448, said that originally the altarpiece was surmounted by a large wood lunette on which was painted, by Salviati, God-the-Father “e due Angioli per parte che l’adorano,” which was then placed above the main door of the cathedral (that is, when the picture was removed from its original frame and placed in the new chapel of the Holy Sacrament).  This lunette is lost.  In 1789 an earthquake destroyed the dome of the new chapel of the Holy Sacrament (Magherini Graziani, 1897, 40).  Giuseppe Andreocci, Breve ragguaglio di ciò che in genere di belle arti si contiene di più prezioso in Città di Castello, Arezzo, 1829, 14, states that the painting is still in this chapel.  Mancini, 1832, 17, writes that Rosso’s altarpiece is on the wall behind the altar of this chapel.  Mannucci, 1878, 141, places it on the altar of the chapel.  Between 1879 and 1886 the chapel was restored (Magherini Graziani, 1897, 40).  A decade later Magherini Graziani, 1897, 182, refers to Rosso’s altarpiece as hanging on a wall of the tribune but he says he does not know when it was placed in “quells cappella.”  It might be assumed that it was moved during the restoration of the chapel of the Holy Sacrament.  Amicizia, 1899, 81, speaks of the painting as on the wall to the left of the high altar of the cathedral.  Given the plan of the cathedral it is probable that Magherini Graziani and Amicizia are referring to a wall of the left transept, this transept being in fact a chapel and the original chapel of the Compagnia del Corpus Domini that commissioned Rosso’s painting.  Franklin, 1994, 186, thought placing it here may have been an attempt to return it approximately to its original site.  It is indicated as in the left transept in Italia Centrale, Guida Breve, II, Milan, 1939, 169.  And it was here that it hung unframed, and almost invisible, until it was placed once again in the large chapel of the Holy Sacrament in 1983.

DOCUMENTS: The contract for this picture is preserved in A.S.F., Conv. soppressi, 20, 18 (Filza seconda di memorie della Venerabil Compagania della Annunziata di Arezzo, 1380–1620), fols. 100r and 105v:

Al nome de Dio Amen. Adi de luglio 1528:

Sia noto e manifesto a chi legiarà overo odirà legiare questa presente scripta, come meser Calisto de’Fucci e ser Piertropavolo Pacisordi benché absente, per lo qua’ dicto meser Calisto promette de rato, electi asumpti e deputati da la Compagnia del Corpus Domini sopra a una capella da farse a honore, laude e reverentia de Dio e de la Vergine Maria, con auctorità de rescotere, pagare et de fare tucto quello che fare potesse la dicta Compagnia e quello che per loro se farà, se haverà rato e fermo, come de tucto ne apare instrumento per mano de publico notaro; el dicto messer Calisto dà et aloca uno quadro a meser Rosso fiorentino depentore per prezo et in nome de prezo de scudi cento cinquanta, a ragione de vinti grossi per scudo; et al presente el dicto meser Calisto, oltra a quello che el dicto meser Rosso ha hauto, come apare per suoi bulettini apreso a Giovanpavolo Fondacci depositario; li dà con suo bulettino per le mano de dicto depositario scudi vinti, e promette per tutto agosto dare e pagare al dicto meser Rosso scudi quindici, e da lì inderieto scudi dieci per ciascuno mese, finita l’opera, suplire per insino a lo integro pagamento de cento cinquanta scudi, perché lui non dubita mente se rescoteranno; et el dicto meser Calisto con l’aiuto e favore de lo illustre Signore Nicolò Vitelli, prometter usare diligentia e soleccitudine a rescotere quanto se poterà.

El prefato meser Rosso depentore predicto, promette a tucte sue spese de pescione de casa e de letti e de colori a de tucte l’altre spese al vivere suo necessarie e de tucto quello che bisogniasse; e promette fare bona, suficiente e laudabile opera, come a buono e suficiente depentore e come meglio poterà e saperà, con la figura de uno Cristo resuscitato e glorioso con la figura de la Nostra Donna e con la figura de Sancta Anna, con la figura de Sancta Maria Madalena e con la figura de Sancta Maria Emptiana [=Egiziaca],2 e da basso in dicta tavola più e diverse figure che denotino e representino el populo, con quelli Angeli che a lui parerà de acomodarre; e promette el dicto mastro depentore dare finito el dicto quadro e la dicta opera in fra otto o dieci mesi, o al più infra uno anno, incomenzando come de sopra e come seguita da finire.

[fol. 105v]

Scripta de messer Rosso depentore [in same hand as the contract].3

In the contract of 24 November 1528 for the frescoes that Rosso was to paint in the church of S. Maria delle Lagrime in Arezzo (see D.31–D.33) it is stated that until they were completed he was not to take on any other work “preter unam tabulam quam ad presens pingit in Civitate Castelli.”

The following document of 3 September 1685 is transcribed from Mancini, 1832, 19, n. 1.  It concerns the cutting off of the four corners of the picture around the time that the altarpiece was moved from its original location to the new chapel of the Holy Sacrament that was consecrated 20 June of that year.

“A dì 3.  Settembre 1685

“Fu radunato il solito Capitolo del mese al quale ec. essendo che senza saputa del Capitolo, e Canonici, e niun consenso del Pro-sagrista maggiore sia stato mutilato in più parti il quadro famoso del Rosso Fiorentino che rappresenta la Trasfigurazione di Cristo N.S., il quale quadro stava per prima nella cappella del SSmo Sagramento nella chiesa superiore a cornu Evangelii, et i fragmenti di detto quadro si trovino presso il Sig. Gasparo, ed altri Fucci; a di più siano stati anche levati alcuni mascheroncini, e rosette dorate che erano nella cornice del baldacchino che stava sopra l’altar maggiore; e perchè tutto questo è seguito non solamente con deterioramento del quadro della stima a tutto il mondo nota, e disprezzo de’medesimi Signori Canonici, e Capitolo: pertanto essendo riuscite inutili l’amicabili estanze fatte da più, e diversi a detti Signor Fucci, e ad altri; si è risoluto di far procedere civilmente, e criminalmente contro chi has guasto, e segato il quadro, e ritiene detti fragmenti, ed a tal effetto il Sig. Cononico Eleosari Sagrista Maggiore con tutte le faccoltà necessarie et opportune etiam di sostituire più Procuratori qui, et in Roma avanti qualsivoglia Giudice competente a far istanza per i danni risultati dalla segatura del quadro, da stimarsi dai Periti ec.”4


Paris, Louvre, Inv. 8781, Study for the seated female saints and Munich, Hinrich Sieveking Collection, Study for the seated female saints and for the woman holding a spindle with a child below (D.27A, B).

Florence, Uffizi, no. 444S recto, Study for the lower half of the altarpiece (D.28).

Rennes.  (D.26B)

Rome, Gabinetto Nazionale delle Stampe, no. 125607, Study for the lower half of the altarpiece (D.29).

See also COPY below.


Vasari, 1550, 801–802 (Vasari-Ricci, IV, 247, 249) first speaks of the picture immediately after the Borgo Sansepolcro Pietà: “Gli fu fatto in Città di Castello allogazione di una tavola, laquale volendo lavorare, mentre che s’ingessava le ruinò un tetto adosso, che la infranse tutta.  Vennegli un mal di febbre si bestiale, che ne fu quasi per morire; perilche di Castello si fe portare al Borgo.”  Still ill Rosso went from Borgo Sansepolcro to Pieve di S. Stefano, and then to Arezzo.  There, on 24 November 1528, he was commissioned a series of frescoes for S. Maria delle Lagrime, the story of which Vasari then recounts.  In September 1529 Rosso fled Arezzo because of the war with the Florentines.  Here Vasari continues his account of the Città di Castello picture: “…se n’andò al Borgo San Sepolcro…perche quelli che a Castello gli aveva allogato la tavola, volsero che la finisse: e per il male, che avea avuto a Castello, non volle ritornarvi, e cosi al Borgo finì la tavola loro.  Ne mai a essi volse dare allegrezza di poterla vedere: dove figurò un popolo, e un Christo in aria, adorato da quattro figure, e quivi fete Mori, Zingani, e le piu strane cose del mondo: e dale figure in fuori, che di bontà son perfette, it componimento attende a ogni altra cosa, che all’animo di coloro, che gli chiesero tale pittura.”

The same in Vasari, 1568, II, 208–209 (Vasari-Milanesi, V, 163–164, 165–166).

Filippo Baldinucci, Notizie de’Professori del Disegno [Florence, 1681–1728], Turin, 1813, III, 293, as representing the transfiguration but from Vasari it is not possible to understand what is intended by the picture (from Darragon, 1983, 78, 80, n. 8 [not found in Baldinucci 1845–1975]).

Titi, 1686, 385, 442–443, as a Transfiguration.

Lanzi, 1792, 91, as an Ascension with a band of gypsies instead of apostles below.

Lanzi, 1795–1796, I, 150 (1852, I, 162), as a Transfiguration.

Mancini, 1832, 17, 19, n. 1, says that the two forward figures above appear to be Sibyls, and the two others Enoch and Elijah.

Mannucci, 1878, 141, as a Transfiguration or an Ascension.

Magherini Graziani, 1897, 182–184, 339, Pl. XXXV, publishes the document of 1528 and remarks that the figure of Christ is imitated from Raphael’s.

Amicizia, 1899, as a Transfiguration.

Goldschmidt, 1911, 23–24, as falsely called a Transfiguration.

Voss, 1920, 188, as the so-called Transfiguration and as showing how deeply Roman grandness had influenced Rosso.

Friedlaender, 1925, 81, ns. 1–2 (1957, 37–38, ns. 1–2, Fig. 17).

Colnaghi, 1928, 237, as begun as a Resurrection and then changed to a Transfiguration.

Pevsner, 1928, 30, as the so-called Transfiguration and as showing Roman influence.

Friedlaender, 1929, 224, Fig. 4 (1957, 59, Fig. 17), as a paraphrase of the Transfiguration and as intellectual, symbolic, odd, and mannerist.

Kusenberg, 1931, 34, 36–38, 127, 191, ns. 104–106, Pl. XXVII, as falsely called the Transfiguration; he says that Rosso went to Sansepolcro in September 1529 to finish it. Related to the Sansepolcro Pietà but that the Christ recalls Raphael’s in his Disputa.  Kusenberg also remarks that it was the only picture in the cathedral but gives no source for this statement.

Venturi, IX, 5, 1932, 195, 196, 215–216, 218, Fig. 123, 230, calls it both a Transfiguration and a Resurrection, and speaks of it as Michelangelesque, as influenced by Rome, and as again close to Pontormo, recalling his paintings at the Certosa.  Above he sees two grave sibyls and two other women.

Kusenberg, 1935, 62.

Carlo Gamba in the Enciclopedia italiana, XXX, 1936, 156, calls it a “Gloria di Cristo.”

Mostra el Cinquecento, 1940, 66, as a Transfiguration.

Salmi, 1940, 80, as a Transfiguration, inspired by Raphael and Peruzzi, the woman in the left foreground recalling the latter’s Sibyl in the Fontegiusta fresco.

Becherucci, 1944, 30–31, as related to the Sansepolcro Pietà, with the figure of Christ related to Pontormo’s in his Ascension at the Certosa [she must mean the Resurrection].  On the basis of this similarity she proposes trips by Rosso to Florence in these years.

Barocchi, 1950, 70–76, 246, as compositionally related to Raphael’s Transfiguration, but also influenced by Peruzzi and Dürer.

Shearman, 1957, I, 247, II, 229f., n. 73.

Becherucci, [1958] 1968, 458, as showing Rosso’s inspiration seeming to flag.

Rosini, 1961, 53, as the so-called Transfiguration.

Carroll, 1961, 450, 451, Figs. 10–12, 453, discusses a drawing in Rome [D.29] and one in Florence [D.28], and in n. 18 another in Paris [D.27A],  that are related to an early conception of Rosso’s picture conceived before the accident Vasari describes.

Smyth, 1962, 22; 1963, 191–192; 1992, 79–80, and Fig. 57 (before cleaning), as showing precedents for maniera in the two new flat figures, in the upper corners, showing two twists of direction.

Berenson, 1963, 194, Pl. 1471.

Shearman, 1963, 210, n. 39, refers to Lanzi’s phrase that Rosso’s picture has “alquanto di stravangante” as meaning “manierismo.”

Forlani, [1964], 169, under no. 34.

Hirst, 1964, 121, and n. 8. mentions the document of 1528 and transcribes part of it to indicate that the picture is not a Transfiguration.

Carroll, 1964 (1976), I, Bk. I, 176–183, 212–215, Bk. II, 145–147, P. 23, II, Bk. II1 277–290, under D. 26 and D. 27, Bk. III, Fig. 94.

Hauser, 1965, 194, as vividly expressing the sense of crisis, insecurity and fear of these years, but also as a picture that has more art-historical importance than artistic merit.

Borea, 1965, as Michelangelesque through Pontormo, especially his Deposition in S. Felicita, indicating that between 1527 and 1530 Rosso visited Florence.

Shearman, 1966, 169, n. 19, indicates the subject as given in the contract of 1528 and mentions that the picture shows Christ with other figures including the Three Maries, the first witnesses on earth of the Resurrection.  He also points out that the commission may have been given to Rosso through the intervention of Bishop Leonardo Tornabuoni who seems to have become governor of Città di Castello in 1527.

Freedberg, 1966, 583, as a Resurrection.

Carroll, 1966, 168, 173.

Carroll, 1967, 303.

Frommel, 1967, 146, discussed the influence of Rosso’s picture on Peruzzi’s Augustus and the Sibyl fresco.

Freedberg, 1971, 131–132, 485, n. 34, as a Resurrection, and as having something of an introversion created by provincial isolation.

Sinding-Larsen, 1974, 84, 115–115, as showing “not a suffering Christ… but rather… an unambiguously triumphant Christ… [demonstrating] unmistakably the antithesis between sacrifice and glory.”

Carroll, 1975, 19.

Nyholm, 1977, 16, Fig. 79, as uncleaned and impossible to see.

Cuzin, 1977, 22, 58, n. 37, states that the woman in the foreground seen from the back has the characteristics of a gypsy (bohémienne): a cape knotted at the shoulder, an ample gathered dress, a calf-length skirt, bare feet, a large turban, and a child in her arms.  However, the figure does not actually wear a turban.

Carroll, 1978, 28.

Evelina Borea, in Primato del disegno, 1980, 191, no. 453.

Parronchi, 1980, 37, Fig. 4, 62–64, wrote of the “dimenticati” who are depicted and of the contract that gave to Rosso the selection of the people represented.

Alessandro Parronchi, in Baldini, 1982, 97–98, believes that the meaning of the picture is “il Cristo risorto che si presenta alle creature che ha più amato…proprio il mondo degli umili e dei dimenticati,…”

Elam, 1982, 720, 722, Fig. 85, pointed out Parronchi’s interesting suggestion that we “must contend with the fact that one [of the figures] is a bishop, while another has an elaborately jeweled coiffure.”

Chastel, in Daragon, 1983, 6, as a Transfiguration and as an “anti-chef-d’oeuvre.”

Daragon, 1983, 11, 19–25, 27–28, 32, 48–82, Figs. 2–3. Color Pls. A–D, discusses the painting at length; he recognizes the woman seen from the back and the old man with moustaches as gypsies, and believes that the woman is reading the palm of the woman with the basket of chickens; the soldier he identifies as the centurion that recognized Christ’s divinity.  He sees the picture as a meditation on the mystery of the Redemption that is normally placed in the liturgy of Maundy Thursday.

Sinding-Larsen, 1984, 114, discusses in general the difficulty in determining the artist’s share in liturgical iconography, noting specifically in regard to the text of Rosso’s commission that “it would be extremely risky to take such a contract at its face value.”

Wilmes, 1985, 65, 68, 74, 78–79, 84–85, 15, 162–165, 168–169, 175, Fig. 37.

Rosini, 1986, Color Pls. IV–VI, 207–209.

Carroll, 1987, 25, 29, 34–35, n. 67.

Davis, 1988, 201, mentioned in relation to the Allegory on the Birth of Christ [D.72; E.81].

Ciardi and Mugnaini, 1991, 27, 111, 124, 128–133, no. 25, with 4 Color Pls., 150, Christ in a mandorla showing a gothic quality.

Hall, 1992, 155, 156, Fig. 52, as a “Transfiguration” and as showing the taste for chiaroscuro acquired in Rome.

Lebenztejn, 1992, 279.

Franklin, 1994, 30, 79, 87, 145, 166, 175, 177, 184–209, 227, 234, 255, 257–258, 260, 275, 310, Appendix G, DOCUMENTS 1–2, 316, Color Pls. 147, 164, as showing the Risen Christ in Glory, and interpreting from the “popolo” indicated in the contract that Rosso was to depict the People of Città di Castello which, however, do not appear in the altarpiece but rather a cross section of people, a change that may be related to Vasari’s comment that Rosso had not fulfilled his patrons’ wishes and that may have disturbed the members of the confraternity.

Brilli, 1994, 26, 132, Color Pl., 133, 135, comments that the woman with the chickens is having her palm read by the gypsy seen from the back.

Falciani, in Gnocchi and Falciani, 1994, 16, 56, Color Fig., 57.

Marchetti Letta, 1994, 62, 73, 74, Color Pl. 99, as showing a crowd of common people below, and failing to comply with the expectations of those who ordered it, also as related to Masaccio’s Tribute Money.

Ciardi, 1994, 25, 28, 29, Fig., 41, 80, 81, Fig., 94, n. 103, the lower zone related to Masaccio’s Distribution fresco, and showing a relationship to Parmigianino’s Vision of St. Jerome that Rosso could have seen in Rome, and with analogies with the same artist’s Madonna in Dresden.

The picture has always been recognized as Rosso’s and identified with the painting that Vasari says Rosso made for Città di Castello.  Commissioned on 1 July 1528, possibly through the intervention of Leonardo Tornabuoni,5 its design was probably begun shortly thereafter.  Franklin (1994, 187–188, 310, Appendix: G, DOCUMENT 1) discovered a document of 12 June 1528 referring to money for what must be the picture that Rosso eventually painted with indication of deliberations going back to 21 February 1528.  It is possible then that Rosso was unofficially approached before the date of the contract, even before he completed the Borgo Sansepolcro altarpiece, a possibility supported, according to Franklin, by the fact that Rosso was paid 20 scudi immediately upon the making of the contract on 1 July.  Several studies for it (see above) apparently made at the beginning of his work on the project show a composition somewhat different from the one that was later executed.  The panel was prepared in Città di Castello and then, according to Vasari, while it was being gessoed, the roof fell in and damaged it (“la infranse tutta”); The examination of the panel during its recent restoration (see above) revealed the damage inflicted at that time.  Becoming ill, Rosso first went to Borgo Sansepolcro and then to Pieve di Santo Stefano to recuperate, moving from there to Arezzo where, on 24 November 1528, he was commissioned to do a series of frescoes for S. Maria delle Lagrime in that town (D.31–D.33).  What may be assumed is that Rosso’s early designs for the Christ in Glory were made in the summer and possibly in the early autumn of 1528.  The project was then abandoned until Rosso fled from the war in Arezzo, probably in September 1529, and returned to Borgo Sansepolcro.6 It was there, rather than in Città di Castello, to which he did not wish to return because he had been ill in that town, that he painted the Christ in Glory, on the original panel that would have been sent to Sansepolcro.  On Maundy Thursday, 14 April 1530, Rosso, according to Vasari, 1568, 209 (Vasari-Milanesi, V, 166) got into a fight with a priest in the cathedral and this precipitated his departure from Borgo Sansepolcro. Again according to Vasari, “finita la tavola di Castello, senza curarsi del lavoro d’Arezzo,” Rosso fled to Venice. Vasari’s wording would seem to indicate that by Maundy Thursday the Christ in Glory was finished.

The subject of the picture has been a matter of some controversy.  Titi, in 1685, called it a Transfiguration.  Lanzi at first thought it represented the Ascension, then the Transfiguration. Mancini thought it might be either. Colnaghi suggested it was begun as a Resurrection and then changed into a Transfiguration.  Recently it has been considered more in terms of a Resurrection although as late as 1983 Chastel called in the Transfiguration.  Shearman thought it showed the three Maries who first discovered Christ’s Resurrection.  However, the contract of 1528 states that the women who were to be depicted with Christ are the Virgin Mary, St. Anne, St. Mary Magdalen, and St. Mary the Egyptian.  The latter, a third or fifth century courtesan, was not a witness to the Resurrection.  In Rosso’s painting the two young women above must be, at the far left the Magdalen, dressed in red, at the far right, St. Mary the Egyptian, with a bare back (Darragon, 1983, 58, believes that the head of an animal on the band that crosses her back identifies her as an Egyptian; Franklin, 1994, 196–187, identifies it as a lion, the animal that dug her grave).  The second woman from the left would have to be the Virgin, and the third, who is old, must be St. Anne.  The contract calls for the figure of Christ “resusciato  glorioso” with these female saints, and below “più e diverse figure che denotino e representino el populo.”  This does, in fact, seem to be what Rosso painted, a diverse group of people who would seem to represent the people of the world.  Franklin (see above) thought the contract would have meant the People of Città di Castello.  Although the picture shows Christ “resuscitated” and “glorious,” the painting does not depict the episodes of the Resurrection, the Transfiguration, or the Ascension. Gamba called it a “Gloria di Cristo” and this seems to be appropriate.  Baldini titles it “Cristo risorto in Gloria” which is directly related to what the document of 1528 specifies. Darragon calls it “Christ en gloire.”  Franklin refers to Christ with wounds as in a resurrected state, the picture showing the glorification of Christ’s body related to the Christian doctrine of the Corpus Domini.  Christ is depicted alive after the Resurrection, with his torso, hands, and feet showing his wounds. Here is presented the Corpus Domini, to which was dedicated the compagnia for whom Rosso painted his picture.  With the Virgin and St. Anne, the purity of Christ’s lineage seems indicated, in contrast to the two beautiful courtesans whose saintliness so obviously results from their having overcome their sins of the flesh.  Christ—the Corpus Domini—is presented as the Saviour of the world, and the population of that world is shown below.  The Virgin by her gesture recommends that population to Christ.

The copies of one early drawing for the altarpiece (D.27A, B) show two of the female saints nude to the waist, as is the woman with a spindle below.  There is some possibility that this lost drawing presents evidence of two levels of a three tiered composition in which Christ would have been above the closely grouped seated saints.  The contract called for “angeli” that seem nowhere to be found in the finished altarpiece.  Vasari related not only that Rosso did not want to return to Città di Castello, where he had gotten ill, to execute the picture, but also that while painting it in Borgo Sansepolcro he would not allow his patrons to see it.  Vasari continued that “dalle figure in fuori, che di bontà son perfette, il componimento attende a ogni altra cosa, che all’animo di coloro che gli chiesero tale pittura.” There seems to have been some ill will between Rosso and his patrons, but what he gave them that was not what they wanted is not certain.  Vasari suggested it was the motley group below including “mori, zingani, e le più strane cose del mondo.”  The inclusion of angels might have provided some traditional satisfaction, as well as might clearer indication of just what is taking place amongst that “popolo.”  Not to mention what kind “popolo” it is in the first place, the appearance of the turbaned black man at the lower left—one of Vasari’s “mori”—indicating that these are not the citizens of Città di Castello, if this is what was wanted.  Perhaps the patrons wanted something more along the lines of a three-tiered Transfiguration, the implications of which continue to assert their effect on Rosso’s two-level scene, so much so that the picture was often thought to represent this subject.  The confraternity celebrated the feast of Corpus Domini at its altar not only on Maundy Thursday but also on the feast of the Transfiguration, 6 August.7

COPY: Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, no. A2135, Copy(?) of the figures of the Magdalen and the Virgin (Fig.P.20Copy, Amsterdam), pen(?) and point of brush and ink, and wash over black chalk; inscribed in ink at the upper left: Campagnolo; watermark, a bow, near to Briquet 744; three collectors’ marks on the detached backing: Lugt 2228 or 2228a (Rijksmuseum), 2135? (Rembrandt Society, Amsterdam), and a third with FLV. set in an oval.  Although this sixteenth century drawing could be merely a copy of the two saints at the upper left of Rosso’s painting certain details suggest that it might instead go back to a lost drawing made for the picture.  While the drapery is carefully done like that in the painting it does not absolutely correspond to the latter.  Nor does the hair of the Magdalen correspond to that in the painting.  However, it is similar to the hair in Rosso’s Throne of Solomon, in Bayonne, done in 1529 (D.34).  It also resembles the hair of the same figure in the copy of a lost drawing for the picture in the Louvre, Inv. 8781 (D.27A)  Furthermore, the draughtsmanship of the Amsterdam sheet, removed as it is from Rosso’s, does somewhat resemble that of his Throne of Solomon, and of his Design for a Tomb, in the British Museum, of 1539 or 1540 (D.81). If it does copy a lost drawing that drawing would probably have been done late in 1529 when Rosso again started working on the picture.  The clothing of the women is as it is in the painting and not as it appears in the copy of the early drawing in the Louvre.  However, it is possible that the Amsterdam drawing is copied from the painting and that the differences between them is due to the diminished visibility of the upper part of the picture to the draughtsman standing in front of it.

1See Baldini, 1982, 96, 98.

2 Gino Corti informed me that “Emptiana” may be derived from the old Italian word “emtizio” meaning “bought,” coming from the Latin “emptio,” signifying a purchase, hence perhaps signifying here a prostitute, the original occupation of St. Mary the Egyptian.  Such may be indicated by the bare back of this saint with a book at the far right of the top of Rosso’s painting.  Franklin, 1994, 197, noted the inappropriateness of the book inasmuch as the saint could not read, and identified the animal head’s ornament that Darragon pointed out (1983, 58) on the belt the saint wears as a lion’s head, related to the lion that dug the saint’s grave.

3 First published by Magherini Graziani, 1987 (see below); also by Darragon, 1983 (see below), and Franklin, 1994, 188, 288, n. 32 310, Appendix G, DOCUMENT 1; Franklin, following Hirst, 1964, 121–122, pointed out that it is Rosso’s own personal copy of the contract left behind when he fled Arezzo in 1529.

4 See also Franklin, 1994, 186, and 288, n. 17, where the location of the document, not recorded by Mancini, is given as: Archivio Vescovile nell’Archivio Seminarile di San Girolamo di Città di Castello, vol. 164, fols. 187v–188r.  Contrary to Daragon, 1983, 77, it does not seem that the stolen “mascheroncini” and “rosette dorate” mentioned in this document belonged to the frame of Rosso’s picture as they are said to have been taken from the baldachin of the high altar of the church where Rosso’s painting is not known ever to have been placed.  This was also noted by Franklin, 1994, 188, 288, n. 33, who commented that it is not known if Rosso was responsible for the lost frame of his picture, likely made of wood, which still existed in 1689 framing an altarpiece by Simone Nelli da Citerna in the Seeminary of Città di Castello (Archivio Capitolari nell’Archivio Seminarile di San Girolamo di Città di Castello, MS LXVI, fol. 32v).

5 According to Shearman (1966, 169, n. 19). M. G. Muzi, in his Memorie civile di Città di Castello, II, Città di Castello, 1844, 109, says that Leonardo Tornabuoni was made Governor of Città di Castello in 1527, but P. Litta, in his Celebri famiglie italiane, III, fasc. xxxvi, tav. 2, gives the date 1529, which Shearman judges less authoritative.  Franklin, 1994, 187, 288, n. 22, states that Muzi’s date is a typographical error and should read 1529, the actual date of the papal bull being 25 May 1529; Tornabuoni succeeded to the post 25 June 1529.  Thus it can only be a suggestion that Tornabuoni aided Rosso to obtain the commission in 1528.  Rosso painted his Dead Christ in Boston (P.18) for Tornabuoni who was the Bishop of Borgo Sansepolcro where Rosso painted his Pietà of 1527–1528.  It was also in Sansepolcro that Rosso eventually painted the altarpiece for Città di Castello.  Vasari, 1568, 208, says that Rosso was “amicissimo” with Tornabuoni, so we might assume that if the latter was in a position to help Rosso in 1528 he probably did.  Franklin stated that the influence of Tornabuoni must be viewed with caution but cannot be dismissed altogether.

6 Rosso probably fled Arezzo shortly after 18 September 1529 when the Prince of Orange began to take over the city and to take the possessions of the Florentines.  One might assume that Rosso was gone by the time that the Florentines in the citadel began firing on Arezzo on 12 November.  See G. S. Sezanne, Arezzo illustrata memorie istoriche, letterarie e artistiche, Florence, 1858, 92–94.

7 See Franklin, 1994, 186.