D.40B (COPY) Christ in Limbo

D.40B (COPY) Christ in Limbo

c. 1530

London, Victoria and Albert Museum, Dyce 343.


Pen and ink and wash, 22.5 x 29.9 (from Ward-Jackson, 1979; see below).

PROVENANCE: Dyce Bequest, 1869.


Dyce Collection, 1874, 53, no. 343, as by Luca Cambiaso.

Carroll, 1964 (1976), I, Bk. I, 258-259, II, Bk. II, 428-430, D.52, Bk. III, Fig. 131, as a copy of a lost Rosso drawing of c. 1538.

Ward-Jackson, 1979, 211, no. 459, and Fig., as Genovese, mid-16th century.


Formerly attributed to Luca Cambiaso, and now more simply considered as Genovese, the drawing was exhibited at the museum in the summer of 1959 as a copy of a lost drawing by Rosso on the suggestion of Philip Pouncey.  It was accompanied by the following text: “Formerly attributed to Luca Cambiaso; but the element of weird fantasy suggests Rosso, while the weakness of the drawing suggests a copyist.”

The figure of Eve at the right is quite similar to Rosso’s Ceres in a Niche of 1526 (Fig.E.39), to his Philyra in the Saturn and Philyra of early 1527 (Fig.E.47a), and especially to the Grace at the far left in the Mars and Venus of 1530 (Fig.D.42a).  Eve’s long, regular curls also appear in the last two images.  Christ, seen from the back in the foreground, is similar to the figures in the foreground of the Throne of Solomon of 1529 (Fig.D.34), and to the apostle bent over to pet a dog and seen from the back in Rosso’s Last Supper of around 1529 (Fig.D.40A).  His long hair falling in front of his face is like that of one of the apostles in Rosso’s Agony in the Garden of 1529, engraved by Cherubino Alberti (Fig.E.3).  Compositionally, the Christ in Limbo has something of the randomness and spatial complexity of Rosso’s St. Roch Visiting the Plague-Stricken of 1524 (Fig.D.14A; Fig.D.14B) and yet at the same time a spherical form that recalls the Borgo Sansepolcro Pietà of 1527-1529 (Fig.P.19a).  The relationship of Christ to the figure that is being pulled up by him resembles that of the seated figure just right of center of the Christ in Glory to the woman in the foreground of the painting seen from the back.  This resemblance is greater here than to what appears in Rosso’s early study for the painting (Fig.D.29), where the foremost figure is complexly turned.  Christ’s simpler pose and his relationship to the man he is pulling up, and especially the interconnection of their arms, bring to mind the composition of the figures at the lower left of the Throne of Solomon.

As indicated by Pouncey, the drawing would have to be a copy of a lost drawing by Rosso.  Although formerly I thought that the original drawing was done in France around 1538, it now seems to me more reasonable to date it around 1530 when Rosso was still in Italy.  The drawing is most easily related to his Throne of Solomon, Last Supper, and Mars and Venus.  Graphically, the lost original may have been similar to the Throne of Solomon, with its particular kind of hooked lines describing folds and its parallel shading made with the point of the brush that are also found in the Christ in Limbo.  But it is also possible that the brightness of the foreground set against the darkness behind the figures may in the lost original have resembled what appears in the Mars and Venus.

The somewhat rare subject of the drawing may indicate that it was done in Venice.  There is no resemblance to Donatello’s relief of the Christ in Limbo in S. Lorenzo, Florence.  But Rosso’s scene is somewhat similar to depictions of the episode attributed to Mantegna and Bellini that Rosso could have become acquainted with in Venice in 1530.1  However, it is even more similar to two of Dürer’s woodcuts of Christ in Limbo, from the Large Passion (Fig.Dürer, B.14) and from the Small Passion (Fig.Dürer, B.41), which show Christ in a similar position from the side and flying demons with monstrous animal and bird-like heads.  (The Mantegna-Bellini scene shows Christ wholly from the back and the demons with human heads).  It seems likely that Rosso’s renewal of interest in Dürer took place in Venice rather than in provincial Arezzo or Borgo Sansepolcro.

While the attribution to Rosso seems to me highly probable, the crudeness of the draughtsmanship of the drawing requires that some reservation be maintained as to his authorship of the supposed lost original.


1 For these images, see Andrea Mantegna, 1992, 258-272.