L.15 Dead Christ, altarpiece of the Chapel of the Confraternity of the Corpus Christi

c. 1520

Piombino, Pieve of Santi Lorenzo e Antimo

Vasari, 1550, 797, in the “Life” of Rosso: “Poi lavorò al Signor di Piombino una tavola, con un Christo morto bellissimo, e gli fece ancora una cappelluccia,…”  Vasari, 1568, II, 205 (Vasari-Milanesi, V, 158).

This sentence appears immediately after the reference to the triumphal arch made for the entry of Leo X into Florence on 30 November 1515 (L.12) and just before the mention of the Volterra Deposition of 1521.  Although Vasari misplaces his remarks on the S. Maria Nuova Altarpiece, painted in 1518, he places the Dead Christ after it.

There is no documentation on Rosso for 1516, 1519 or 1520 but the Portrait of a Young Man with a Letter in London, shows the letter dated 22 February 1518, Florentine style. This would be 1519 by modern reckoning (P.6), and is assumed to be the date of the portrait. Because the Dead Christ was likely made for the small chapel, now also lost (L.16), that Vasari also noted as by Rosso and designed for the Lord of Piombino at the same time it can be assumed that the panel painting was executed there. A trip to Piombino could have taken place in 1516, but it is more likely that it occurred just before Rosso’s stay in Volterra in 1521, that is before 8 April 1521 (see DOC.7), and that it was these two commissions from Jacopo V d’Appiano, the Prince of Piombino, that took Rosso to this part of Italy. Several historians have concluded that the Dead Christ was executed c. 1520, in Piombino: Borea, 1965; Carroll, 1987, 19; and Ciardi and Mugnaini, 1991, 149.

This date has been substantially proven by a reference in a Florentine document of September 9, 1521 (DOC.7a), published by Waldman and Franklin (1999, 106-116), that a lost document in stilo pluminensi of 11 January 1521 the confraternity of the Corpus Christi in Piombino owed Rosso money. As Waldman and Franklin rightly assume this sum would have been due the artist for professional services. According to Falciani’s discovery (Empoli e Volterra, 1996 (1994), 265-266), the confraternity had its primary seat and altar in the pieve of Santi Lorenzo e Antimo, the principle church in Piombino, or in a chapel attached to it, the likely site for Rosso’s Dead Christ recorded by Vasari. In 1517, again reported by Falciani, Jacopo V d’Appiano received from Pope Leo X, the uncle of Clarice Ridolfi, Jacopo’s third wife, the giuspatronato of the pieve, a possible indication of why Vasari thought that Rosso’s patron in Piombino was Jacopo V.

Waldman and Franklin seem to suggest that Rosso’s panel painting, now assumed to have been made for the chapel of the Confraternity of the Corpus Christi in the principle church of Piombino and designated by Vasari as showing the Dead Christ, “most certainly depicted one of the Passion mysteries after the Crucifixion… a Deposition, Pietà, Entombment, or perhaps a Resurrection or Ascension.” But from what I discern in Vasari’s “Life” of Rosso the title Cristo morto is reserved for pictures like the Dead Christ in Boston (Fig.P.18a), those depicting “one of the Passion mysteries” having the titles traditionally assigned to them. That the picture was “an important work”, as also suggested by Franklin and Waldman, may be true only because it was a commission that got the artist out of Florence and into a position for work that helped restore his reputation.

In 1520 Jacopo V asked for and received from the emperor Charles V confirmation and investiture of the state of Piombino with the same privileges accorded to his father (A. Cesaretti, Istoria del principato di Piombino…, Florence, II, 1789, 104).  Perhaps the Dead Christ and the small chapel are related to this event.  Ciardi, 1994, 55, 95, n. 121, mentioned that Jacopo V was widowed twice and that the lost Dead Christ might be related to these losses, and that it may not have been made for Piombino but for another Appiano villa or palazzo elsewhere, perhaps in or near Pisa.  Valle, 1994, 25, 67, 67-70, thought it might be related to the death of his wife, Emilia Ridolfi, and then went on to identify the lost work with Rosso’s Dead Christ in Boston (P.18).  Franklin, 1994, 55-56, 276, n. 12, thought that Rosso was in Piombino around 1519, for about a year, before going to Volterra, and that he may have visited Rome from Piombino; he also thought that Rosso’s own ambitions may have driven him to Piombino rather than any desire to run away from Florence.  Costamagna, 1994, 36, stated that Rosso went to Piombino from Florence, where he was ostracized, and then to Volterra.  Brilli, 1994, 106, believed that Rosso’s work for Jacopo V was done in 1519.

On the supposition that this lost painting is reflected in several copies, see RP.1.