P.23 Pietà

P.23 Pietà


Paris, Louvre, Inv. 594.

Canvas, transferred from panel, 125 x 162.1

Fig.P.23a lavender tonality
Fig.P.23b bright tonality
Fig.P.23c bw, Christ’s head, before restoration
Fig.P.23d bw, Magdalen, before restoration
Fig.P.23e bw, Virgin, before restoration

Barocchi, 1950, 80, indicates that the painting was cleaned of a blackish patina a short while before 1950.  Baldini, 1982, 96, says that it was being restored at the same time as the painting in Città di Castello (this painting was restored in 1981–1982).  The following remarks are made from notes taken prior to this recent restoration.  The surface of the picture is very rough and irregular suggesting damage both from age and from the transfer of the painting from panel to canvas perhaps when it entered the Louvre under Napoleon I.  (Villot, 1854, 208, no. 368, already mentions it as on canvas.)  Repainted along what would have been the three horizontal cracks between the four planks of which the original panel was composed.  One runs from the Virgin’s right hand through Christ’s beard; the second from below the Magdalen’s ear through St. John’s waist; the third from Christ’s big toe through the area just below his buttock.  Small paint losses throughout the picture have been filled and the red drapery over the Magdalen’s left shoulder has been repaired.  But there are no alterations to the composition due to restoration.  The underdrawing appears to come through in places and although some of its visibility may be due to the paint having become transparent with age the original drawing may always have showed in places because of the thinness of the paint surface.

The general tonality of the picture is lavender-gray (Fig.P.23a), with the brightest, but not significantly brighter, highlights appearing on the Magdalen, on Christ’s legs, and slightly less on St. John’s back. Christ’s flesh is grayish lavender; his hair and beard are dark reddish brown.  The drapery over the Virgin’s head is plum-violet; there is white drapery across her forehead, around her face, and over her shoulders and left breast.  Her sleeves and skirt are dark orange.  Tan drapery with an olive-green cast is held against her right breast by the woman behind her.  The drapery over the Virgin’s knees is the same color as that over her head and hence would seem to be part of the same garment.  The woman behind the Virgin wears dark orange drapery over her head and a dark green dress.  Mary Magdalen’s cloak, seen over her left shoulder, across the front of her body, and over her right thigh, is red -orange.  The puff of her sleeve at the shoulder and the drapery around the upper arm are light yellow with light violet shadows; the lower part of the sleeve is dark green with a greenish cast.  The body of her dress is dark green with pink violet highlights.  The sash at her waist is yellow; the ruffle across her back, white; her skirt, yellow green.  Her hair is dark blond. St. John also has blond hair.  His garment is peach pink with yellow highlights; his overgarment is dark green.  The pillows beneath Christ are dark orange with dark blue eaglets on them; there are also passages of wine red and green.

PROVENANCE: The painting entered the Louvre under Napoleon I, having been seized during the revolution from the collection in the château at Écouen of Louis-Joseph de Bourbon Prince de Condé (see Tauzia, 1878, 203, no. 351; Béguin, in EdF, 1972, 177, no. 200; Béguin, Louvre, 1982, 34–35, no. 25, 57).  In 1568 Vasari (see below) stated that Rosso painted the picture for the Connétable Anne de Montmorency and that the picture was at Écouen (“Ceuan”).  The eaglets of Montmorency’s coat-of-arms appear on the pillows beneath Christ.  According to Lasteyrie, 1879, Part I, 310, the Pietà hung over the door of the chapel.  Béguin points out (see above) that this cannot be the original location for a picture of this subject.  While it seems that this specific placement cannot be the one for which the picture was painted, Vasari indicates that it was already in the château at Écouen by 1568.  There is no evidence that earlier it was elsewhere.  On the relation of the chronology of the chapel at Écouen to the date of Rosso’s picture, see below.


Mentioned by Vasari, 1568, II, 211 (Vasari-Milanesi, V, 171) after describing his decorations at Fontainebleau: “Et al Connestabili fece una tavola dun Christo morto cosa rara che e a un suo luogo chiamato Ceuan.”

Landon, 1832, P1. 34.

Waagen, 1839, 432–433, as mannered.

Villot, 1849, 167–168, no. 445, as on canvas, as from the Musée Napoléon.

Tauzia, 1878, 203, no. 351, as from Écouen.

Lasteyrie, 1879, Part I, 310, see above.

Catalogue sommaire, Louvre, Paris, 1903, no. 1485.

Dimier, 1904, 90, as painted for the chapel at Écouen on the order of Montmorency.

Dimier, 1905, 21, Fig., 22.

Goldschmidt, 1911, 25, 28, states that the movement of its masterful composition is worthy of the Baroque.

Ricci, 1913, 120, no. 1485. Voss, 1920, 189.

Dimier, Histoire, 1925, 50, Pl. XXXVI.

Hautecoeur, 1926, 111, no. 1485.

Pevsner, 1928, 30, as related to the picture in Città di Castello.

Dimier, 1928, 9–10.

Dvorak, 1928, 167.

Kusenberg, 1931, 97–99, 128, as related compositionally to the Pietà in Borgo Sansepolcro, as done in 1537–1540, after the Gallery of Francis I.

Medea, 1932, 81, Pl. XIV.

Venturi, IX, 5, 1932, 231.

Berenson, 1932, 495.

Kusenberg, 1935, 62, as Rosso around 1537–1540.

Rudraut, L., Delacroix et le Rosso, Tartu, 1938, on the influence upon Delacroix’s Pietà in Saint-Denis-du-Saint-Sacrament.

Dimier, 1942, 24, Pl. 54, as painted for Écouen.

Becherucci, 1944, 32, as showing the influence of Michelangelo.

Barocchi, 1950, 80–82, 247, as painted in 1537–1540 for Montmorency and as related to, but more mature than, the Città di Castello picture; she states that the Pietà, like the Sansepolcro picture, expresses a world that the artist no longer feels.

Blunt, 1953, 37 (1973, 65, Fig. 41), as showing how Rosso at the end of his life was still capable of expressing intense and dramatic religious emotion.

Reau, II, 2, 1957, 579, 521, the Virgin’s arms thrown wide apart like a living cross.

Shearman, 1957, It 247ff., believes it was painted soon after Rosso’s arrival in France because of its similarity to his Italian works.

Becherucci, 1958 (1961, Pl. 291 above).

Béguin, 1960, 41, Color Pl., as around 1540, 43, as done in 1537–1540 for Montmorency’s chapel at Écouen, and as spiritually dominated by Michelangelo.  She also points out that the motif of the picture was used by Delacroix for his Pietà at Saint Denis du Saint-Sacrement.

Babelon, 1961, 101–102, 121.

Carroll, 1961, 454.

Prache, 1961, 4.

Berenson, 1963, 195, Pl. 1473, as 1537–1540.

Carroll, 1964 (1976), I, Bk. I, 225–226, 235–236, 240, Bk. II, 148–152, P. 24, II, Bk. III, Fig. 99, as c. 1532–1533.

Hauser, 1965, 195, as 1537–1540.

Borea, 1965, as done soon after Rosso’s arrival in France, and as still showing the influence of Pontormo.

Freedberg, 1966, 583, as around 1535.

Alleau, 1967, 219, as around 1540; he says that Christ seems to be nailed to an invisible cross.

Freedberg, 1971, 485, n. 37, as done at the beginning of Rosso’s French period.

Béguin, in EdF, 1972, 177, no. 200, with extensive bibliography, and 183, under 205 and 206, points out that the eaglets on the orange pillows under Christ constitute Montmorency’s arms.  She also states that its placement over a door in the chapel at Écouen is unusual and wonders if this was its original location, or was it painted as an antependium.  Given the late date of the chapel, if painted for it the picture would have to have been done in the last moments of Rosso’s life.  But an early date can be recognized by comparison with Rosso’s Leda cartoon.  She also compares it with the Death of Adonis in the Gallery of Francis I, and with Rosso’s Pietà etched by Fantuzzi.

Claude Lauriol, in EdF, 1972, 484, as from the chapel at Écouen.

Miles, 1973, 32, states that while the Écouen provenance does not prove a late date, the comparison with the Leda cartoon, not certainly by Rosso, does not prove an early one.

Dumont, “AdF,” 1973, 341, 349, as painted for Montmorency.

Raggio, 1974, 74, as done early in Rosso’s French period; she believes that its feverishness reflects Donatello.

Laskin, 1974, 256, as close to the Sansepolcro picture and done soon after Rosso’s arrival in France.

Freedberg, in Actes, 1975, 15–16, as Maniera.

Nyholm, 1977, 148–149, 150–151, Fig. 87, as more intensely dramatic than the Sansepolcro painting.

Carroll, 1978, 31–36, Fig. 17, as around 1536–1538.

Ravelli, 1978, 144-145, Fig.72/a under nos. 96-97, as related to drawings of c. 1526-27 by Polidoro although Polidoro’s drawings show Christ on the Virgin’s lap and on the ground while Rosso’s figure lies upon pillows. 

Walters, 1978, 160, as seeming “to express an anxious, almost hysterical will to believe, rather than confident faith.”

Boase, 1979, 205, Fig. 129.

Parronchi, 1981, 74, as recalling Michelangelo’s Roman Pietà.

Fomez, 1982, as Rosso and done between 1537 and 1540 about the same time as his portrait in Naples.

Baldini, 1982, 96 (see above).

Béguin, Louvre, 1982, 34–35, no. 25, 57, 70, n. 58, points out that its location over the door of the chapel at Écouen cannot have been its original location; if the picture was made for the chapel at Écouen then it would have to date late because of the date of that chapel, but because of its close stylistic relationship to the works of his late Italian period the Pietà seems to have been done for Montmorency soon after Rosso’s arrival in France.  At the same time she finds Rosso’s style evolving here in the direction of that of the Death of Adonis in the Gallery of Francis I and of the Pietà etched by Fantuzzi.  If the painting was not made for Écouen then it would have to have been taken there in the sixteenth century from Chantilly where Montmorency had another château, which seems strange, she adds, or it would have been taken to Écouen from Chantilly later, which would mean that Vasari is wrong.

Steinberg, 1983, 134, points out the “stark naked Christ.”

Darragon, 1983, 26, 42, Fig. 19, as related to the Sansepolcro Pietà.

Lévêque, 1984, 218, 212, Color Pl.

Wilmes, 1985, 65, 68–69, 74, 79, 166–169, 171, 176, Fig. 38, as Rosso’s only French panel painting.

Delay, 1987, 25, 162–163, as related emotionally and expressively to Rosso’s suicide.

Carroll, 1987, 31, as done around 1538.

Joukovsky, 1987 bis, 9 and n. 10 (1992, 56, and n. 2), remarked that Christ’s pose is related to that of the dead Meleager on ancient sarcophagi.

Caron, 1988, 375, 377, Fig. 11, 378, discussed its color.

Béguin, 1989, 834, and Fig. 28.

Lebensztejn, 1990, 10, 32, n. 2.

Ciardi and Mugnaini, 1991, 17, 25–26, 136–137, no. 27, with Color Pl.

Lebenztejn, 1992, 272, Fig. 88, 273, 277, 279, 280, 283, Color Fig. 99, 284, 286, 297, shows Christ separated from the Virgin, as in Pontormo’s Capponi Deposition, the tomb invisible but near in the opening of the rock in the background.

Franklin, 1994, 79, 183, 207, Pl. 57, Color Pl. 146, as Rosso’s only surviving French panel painting; related to the Sansepolcro Deposition from which the Virgin’s crucified gesture has been redirected to one of display.

Ciardi, 1994, 49, 74, notes that Christ is placed on a cushion, and that the picture concentrates on his body and on his mother, the attendants behind the Virgin echoing the Aurora and the Notte of the Medici Chapel.

Mugnaini, 1994, 103.

Marchetti Letta, 1994, 65, 66, Color Pl. 90, as done 1537–1540.

Knecht, 1994, 435, as Rosso’s.

Jollet, 1994, 77, 81, Fig., notes its “lumière métallique.”

Rosso’s authorship of the Louvre Pietà has never been questioned and its stylistic resemblance to his pictures in Borgo Sansepolcro and Città di Castello are such as to affirm that it is by him.  The picture has also generally been connected with Vasari’s statement of 1558 which the provenance of the picture supports as do also Montmorency’s arms on the pillows beneath Christ.2 Where there is no consensus of opinion is on the date of Rosso’s picture that has been placed both early and late in his French period, and also in the middle of it.  While the similarity of the Pietà to Rosso’s last two Italian altarpieces is sufficient to prove without any reservations Rosso’s authorship of the Louvre painting – in lieu of any other French panel paintings by him that could be used for this purpose3 – the broad compositional rhythms of the Louvre picture are not those of these Italian paintings.  There is a grandness about the Louvre Pietà, in the size of its forms and in their extension across the picture, that does not resemble the multiple particularizations and the small facets of the Sanseplocro picture or the static separation of the figures in the Christ in Glory.  In fact, there are no compositions quite like that of the Louvre Pietà until the time when it would seem that the later works in the Gallery of Francis I were designed, such works as the Enlightenment of Francis I (Fig.P.22, VII S a), the Cleobis and Biton (Fig.P.22, V S a), and the Death of Adonis (Fig.P.22, III S a).  The pose of St. John is more like that of some of the figures in the Sacrifice (Fig.P.22, VII N a), especially the pose of the woman at the lower right, than of the figures in any other paintings in the gallery, or in any other picture by Rosso, including the Christ in Glory (Fig.P.20a), where the pose of St. Mary the Egyptian is similar.  The Sacrifice appears to be one of the last works done in the gallery, after August 1536.  There are no apparently early French works by Rosso that can be so closely identified with the Louvre Pietà.  Béguin also recognized a similarity to the Death of Adonis, and mentioned as well Rosso’s Pietà known from an etching by Fantuzzi (E.80). This print is based on a drawing (D.71A, B, C) that seems to date from around 1537.

Given, however, that the chronology of Rosso’s French works is so largely a hypothesis, based on stylistic changes that can be recognized from the late Italian works and on the changes that appear in the Gallery of Francis I, the date of the Louvre Pietà must be a surmise to some extent.  But because it was made for Montmorency it may be possible to introduce some other evidence that would date the painting not before 1538.  Vasari in 1568, just twenty-eight years after Rosso’s death, recorded that the painting was at Montmorency’s residence at “Ceuan” which has always been thought to indicate Écouen.  From there it eventually entered the Louvre.  There is no history of the picture having ever been elsewhere.  Vasari does not say where at Écouen the picture hung but centuries later it was over the door of the chapel.  While, as Béguin indicated, it seems unlikely that it was painted to be hung over a door, it seems equally likely that it was painted for this chapel.  For what other location in the château at Écouen would have been a more appropriate place for it?  This chapel was built between the time that Montmorency became Constable on 10 February 1538 and 1541 when he fell into disgrace.4  However, its sculptured altar, now at Chantilly, was begun several years later, and its design has no place for the insertion of a painting.5  It is possible that Rosso’s painting was envisioned for a simpler altar that was then replaced when the chapel was refurnished after Rosso’s death.  On the vault directly above where the original altar would have been there is a huge painted coat-of-arms of Montmorency showing an arrangement of eaglets around a cross (Fig.Chapel vault)6 that seems to have its counterpart in the spread-out posture of Christ upon pillows that show Montmorency’s eaglets in Rosso’s painting.  Alleau, 1967, 219, comments that Christ seems to be nailed to an invisible cross, and it might be added that this implied cross would be related to the one of Montmorency’s arms.  This correspondence may very well be intentional.  Assuming that the picture was made for this chapel the Pietà would not have been painted before 1538.  It is also possible that Montmorency would not have had access to Rosso’s services until after he was made Constable.7

However, there are certain works by Rosso that seem to be even later than the Louvre Pietà, works that are farther removed than it is from the last compositions in the Gallery of Francis I.  These works, such as the Three Fates, Nude, engraved by Milan (E.105), the Annunciation drawing in Düsseldorf (D.83), and the Judith and Holofernes drawing in Los Angeles (D.84), as well as the painting in Los Angeles (P.24), would seem to have been done between 1538 and 1540.  In style and expression the Louvre Pietà approaches this group but is not altogether identifiable with it.  A date of 1538 for the Pietà at the time that the chapel at Écouen may have been begun is therefore likely.

COPIES: Paris, Private collection, Degas, Copy of the whole composition, black lead, 16 x 23. PROVENANCE: Paris, Galerie Georges Petit, Atelier Edgar Degas, 4th and last sale, 2–4 July 1919, no. 81b.  Paris, Hôtel Drouot, sale, 11 Dec. 1978, cat. no. 21. LITERATURE: Theodore Reff, “Degas’s Copies of Older Art,” BM, CV, 1963, 248.  Henri Loyrette, Degas e l’Italia, Rome, 1984, 39, 56, no. 9, 57, Fig.

Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, Dc. 327d, réserve, carnet 26, fol. 25, Degas, Copy of the figure of St. John.  LITERATURE; Theodore Reff, “New Light on Degas’s Copies,” BM, CVI, 1964, 258, and The Notebooks of Edgar Degas, Oxford, 1967, I, 89, II, Fig. Nb. 15, p. 25. I should like to thank Mr. Reff for bringing these two drawings to my attention.8

1 The dimensions from Villot, 1849, 167–168, no. 445, Tauzia, 1878, 203, no. 351, and Béguin, 1960, 41; it was already transferred to canvas in 1849.  Béguin, 1989, 834, stated that it has twice been transferred to canvas.  Kusenberg, 1931, 128, 200, n. 212, gives the dimensions as 1.245 x 1.59 m, and states that it has been transferred from canvas.  Barocchi, 1950, 247, gives wrongly 2.45 x 1.59, and this is repeated in EdF, 1972, 177, no. 200, and in Franklin, 1994, 183, caption to Color Pl. 146.

2 This coat-of-arms, showing a cross with sixteen “alérions” or eaglets without beaks or feet (see Decrue, 1885, 4), appears on a majolica dish in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (EF 508, Fortnum Collection), that is decorated with the scene of Hercules Killing the Hydra based on Caraglio’s engraving after Rosso’s design (E.21).

3 The French date of Rosso’s painting in Los Angeles (P.24) is not so generally agreed upon to make it useful here as evidence of his authorship of the Louvre Pietà.

4 See Hoffmann, 1970, 29.  On the date of Montmorency becoming Constable, see Decrue, 1885, 338.

5 See Hoffmann, 1970, 30–31.

6 Hoffmann, 1970, Pls. 19–20.

7 Decrue, 1885, 187–188, states that after Nicolas Raince, the secretary to the French ambassador in Rome, fell out of favor Montmorency “fit donner à l’artiste Rosso une abbaye qu’il avait promise à Raince.”  Unfortunately, Decrue does not say more on this subject (from documentation in the Fonds Du Puy in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris) and it is not clear when Raince fell into disgrace.  It was either in 1532 or thereafter.  The reference to an abbey seems not to relate this event to Rosso becoming a canon of Ste. Chapelle on 14 August 1532, nor to his becoming a canon of Notre Dame on 26 September 1537.  But the latter did carry with it his receiving orders in the Abbey of Ste. Genevieve on 9 and 19 November 1537 (see DOCS. 32 and 34).  If this is what Decrue is referring to then the influence of Montmorency at this time would have only shortly preceded the moment when he became Constable and when the building of the chapel at Écouen was begun.

8 There is a print of the picture in Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, Ba 12 (microfilm H. 100426), apparently an illustration taken from some publication; inscribed at the upper left: 12 Vol., at the upper right: Pl. 6a, at the lower left: Rosso Pinx.t., at the lower right: C. Norman sc..