L.4 Dead Christ

c. 1513

Fresco in a tabernacle, Villa Bartoli, Marignolle.

Vasari, 1550, 796, in the “Life” of Rosso: “con pochi maestri volle stare alla arte, avendo egli une certa sua opinione contraria alle maniere di quegli; come si vede fuor della porta a San Pier Gattolini di Fiorenza, a Marigniolle un tabernacolo lavorato a fresco con un’ Christo morto; dove cominciò a mostrare, quanto egli desiderasse la maniera gagliarda, e di grandezza piu de gli altri leggiarda, e maravigliosa.”  Vasari, 1568, II, 205 (Vasari-Milanesi, V, 156), the same with the following change: “… a Marigniolle in un tabernacolo lavorato a fresco, per Piero Bartoli,…”

This is the first independent work of art by Rosso that Vasari mentions, following immediately upon the reference to his study of Michelangelo’s cartoon, which seems to have taken place in 1513 (see L.3), and before the execution of the arms of Lorenzo Pucci, for which Rosso received payment in October and November 1513 (see L.8).  It is therefore likely that Rosso’s lost fresco was also executed in 1513.

At this date it is unlikely that Piero Bartoli commissioned the work as he was born in 1500.  Probably the fresco was done for his father Matteo di Cosimo Bartoli (1474-1525).1  Vasari may have gotten his information from Piero’s brother, Cosimo, with whom he had an extensive correspondence in the 1560s and visited twice in Venice and probably saw also in Florence before the second edition of the Lives (see Bryce, 1983, 131-144).  Cosimo was three years younger and had either forgotten who commissioned this fresco when he was a child and/or wanted to advance the reputation of his brother whom he frequently tried to help.

Marignolle is a little over 2 kilometers southwest of the Porta Romana (where the church of S. Pier Gattolini is situated).  According to Carocci, II, 1907, 376, the Bartoli villa there is now the Villa Miliotti.  Bryce, 1983, 24 and n. 20, 32, also indicated that the Bartoli villa is now the Villa Miliotti (Soldaini) on via della Grillaia, and that it suffered both before and during the siege of 1530, it and its other building still “rovinate” in 1534.  Kusenberg, 1931, 182, n. 7, no. 3, stated that the tabernacle no longer exists.  This was confirmed in Giulio Lensi Orlandi Cardini, Le ville di Firenze di là d’Arno, Florence, 1954, 147-148.

Natali, 1991 and 1992, bravely suggested that Rosso’s ruined frescoes still exist in a tabernacle related not to the villa at Marignolle, which was not owned by Piero’s branch of the family, but to the one at nearby Colombaia, which a map of 1580-1595 illustrates near to property named as still belonging to Matteo, Piero’s son, although he had already died in 1575.  The tabernacle bears the Guicciardini arms which Natali believes were added to the tabernacle when that family acquired some of the Bartoli property after Matteo’s death, and the map mentioned above shows a tabernacle in this location labeled “Maesta di Girolamo Guicardini.”  The barrel vaulted and domed structure on the map does not look like the existing tabernacle, which has a fresco on the wall at the end of its shallow barrel vault where the building on the map is open.

Unfortunately the map does not show the Bartoli villa at Colombaia, nor Colombaia, and it is not clear that the property on the other side of the road noted as belonging to Matteo Bartoli ever extended so far to include the Guicciardini tabernacle, which is actually on another road at a fork that leads to a Guicciardini villa.

The fresco has deteriorated to such an extent that only the figure of the Virgin is visible, and it only dimly.  It cannot seriously be compared with the Virgin in Rosso’s Assumption of 1513-1514 at the Annunziata.  The one detail more or less fully visible in the tabernacle fresco is the layering of the drapery over the Virgin’s left thigh, which does not resemble Rosso’s rumpled drapery at all.

Natali gives an interesting account of the iconography of the scene showing the Madonna above with the Child standing beside Her, and, it seems, Joseph of Arimathea below supporting the dead Christ with St. Jerome at his feet.  He related the double appearance of the Virgin and Christ to the writings of St. Jerome and to the nearby convent of the Campora dedicated to “Santa Maria sul poggia del Santo Sepolcro” and founded by “la congregazione agostiniana dei Girolamini.”  If the fresco can be read sufficiently to make these connections Natali has offered a reasonable and interesting explanation of the picture.  But he has not shown that such an iconography was possible so early in Rosso’s career, around 1516, as he would date the fresco.  As Natali reported, A. Conti dated the picture in the second half of the century as “un frutto della cultura controriformata.”  This seems to be quite likely.  I also wonder if this fresco is the kind of picture that Vasari would have referred to so simply as a “Christo morto.”  If the existing tabernacle is in fact the same one much reworked as appears in the map of 1580-1595 then it might be worth noting that there it is labeled as belonging to Girolamo Guicciardini, whose namesake appears in the fresco.  Unfortunately I cannot accept this fresco as Rosso’s.

Franklin, 1994, 4, 6, 8-12, 14, Pls. 8-10, thought the attribution to Rosso must be approached with considerable caution, but dated it as his before his work at the Annunziata; he also thought the commissioner may have been Piero di Cosimo Bartoli, the uncle of Cosimo Bartoli, Vasari’s friend from whom he would have gotten his information.  Costamagna, 1994, 94, n. 25, as by Rosso, confirming in part his orientation to the shop at S. Marco.  Ciardi, 1994, 58, 71, the Madonna as related to Rosso’s Assumption, the Child to the one in the picture in Frankfurt that he gives to Rosso [RP.10].  Mugnaini, 1994, 127, refers to it as supposed by Rosso.  Mentioned in Nova, 1995, 553.

For the drawing formerly in the Grahl Collection that Kusenberg thought might be a first study for the fresco, see RP.1.


1 Piero’s birth was registered on 28 October 1500; he died in 1568 (Bryce, 1983, 19, 28, 32; Natali, 1992, 127; Natali, Kunst, 1992, 212, n. 6).  His young age at the time of Rosso’s earliest work makes it unlikely that he commissioned it.  His father, Matteo di Cosimo, was born in 1474 and died in 1525.  There is some indication that Matteo, head of this wealthy family, was identified with the arts and he may have owned the manuscript of Ghiberti’s Commentarii which was certainly later the possession of his middle son, Cosimo (see Bryce, 1983, 26, 28-29, 36).