Circle of Andrea Mantegna (Isola di Carturo 1430-1506 Mantua)
Circle of Andrea Mantegna (Isola di Carturo 1430-1506 Mantua)

The Dead Christ

Circle of Andrea Mantegna (Isola di Carturo 1430-1506 Mantua)
The Dead Christ
distemper on linen
26 x 30½ in. (66 x 77.5 cm.)
(Possibly) Canonici collection, Ferrara.
with Jacob M. Heimann, New York, 1941.
(Probably) with French and Co., New York, from whom acquired prior to 1964 by
The Countess Nadia de Navarro, Glen Head, New York.
H. Tietze, 'The "Cristo in Scurto" by Mantegna', Art in America, XXIX, April 1941, no. 2, pp. 51-56, as Andrea Mantegna.
E. Tietze-Conrat, Mantegna: Paintings, Drawings, Engravings, London, 1955, p. 192, pl. 61, as Andrea Mantegna.
G. Paccagnini, Il Palazzo Ducale di Mantova, Turin, 1961, p. 63, as not Mantegna.
E. Arslan, Il Mantegna a Mantova, Rome, 1961, p. 170, as an old copy by a Lombard Mannerist from the ambience of Figino.
R. Longhi, "Crivelli e Mantegna: Due mostre interferenti e la cultura artistica nel 1961", Paragone, n.s., XIII, 145, 1962, p. 20, as after Mantegna, made perhaps a century later.
R. Cipriani, Tutta la pittura del Mantegna, Milan, 1962, pp. 43, 68, as after Mantegna.
E. Camesasca, Mantegna, Milan, 1964, p. 111, as after Mantegna, late sixteenth century.
N. Garavaglia, L'Opera completa del Mantegna, Milan, 1967, no. 58, as after Mantegna.
R. Lightbown, Mantegna, Berkeley, 1986, p. 422, under no. 23, pl. 255, as "another version".
E. Camesasca, Mantegna, Milan, 1992, p. 54, as after Mantegna, late 16th century.
K. Christiansen, "Devotional Works: Mantua", in S. Boorsch, K. Christiansen, D. Ekserdjian, et al., Andrea Mantegna, exhibition catalogue, New York, 1992, p. 158 note 30, as after Mantegna.
F. Frangi, Cristo morto di Andrea Mantegna, Milan, 1996, pp. 73-74, as after Mantegna.
M. Lucco, Mantegna, Milan, 2003, pp. 230 and 232, fig. 43, as after Mantegna.
G. Agosti, Su Mantegna, Milan, 2006, p. 428, as after Mantegna.
M. Lucco, Mantegna a Mantova, 1460-1506, Milan 2013, pp. 72-74, as after Mantegna.
E. Rossetti, "Scorci intorno a un' intricata vicenda collezionistica: il Cristo Morto di Andrea Mantegna", in S. Bandera, ed., Andrea Mantegna, Cristo morto, Milan, 2013, p. 89 note 4, as after Mantegna.
Milan, Palazzo Reale, Arte Europea da una Collezione Americana, March-April 1964, no. 3, as 'Andrea Mantegna' (catalogue by R. De Grada).

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Alexa Armstrong
Alexa Armstrong

Lot Essay

In April 1941, Hans Tietze first published this fascinating painting, suggesting that it might be Andrea Mantegna’s original treatment of his most famous composition - The Lamentation over the Dead Christ, now in the Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan (fig. 1). The theory that the present painting was a preparatory study, or modello, for the more developed painting in the Brera had earlier been expressed in unpublished letters by Adolfo Venturi, Pietro Toesca, Giuseppe Fiocco, Hermann Voss, Frederick Mason Perkins, Antonio Morassi, Wilhelm Valentiner, George Martin Richter, Wilhelm Suida, Amadeo Porcella, Rudolfo Pallucchini and Alfred M. Frankfurter (see Milan, op. cit., p. 6). Erica Tietze-Conrat also believed it to be the original modello, noting that it “displays the sobriety of a cartoon without any concession to the public” (loc. cit.).

Mantegna’s radical treatment of Christ’s body, laid out on a tomb slab and dramatically foreshortened, is generally regarded as his masterpiece. Immensely powerful in its simplicity, the painting presents the viewer with a nude, muscular Christ, whose lower half is draped with a cloth. The Savior’s wounds are on full display, making this a profoundly moving treatment of the Passion. Yet at the same time, Mantegna’s radical use of foreshortening is doubly innovative as it not only demonstrates his technical skill in representing a body’s recession into space, but also reveals how the artist was able to manipulate the body’s proportions to create a more pleasing work of art. Looking closely, one sees that Mantegna reduced the scale of Christ’s feet, which would normally take up most of the lower part of the composition, perhaps to make his painting more decorous. As Keith Christiansen explains, “The key factor in appreciating the enormous influence of the Dead Christ on subsequent generations of artists, from Sodoma to Annibale Carracci, is its manipulation of foreshortening for emotive effect: its fusion of ‘ingegno’ and pictorial content” (op. cit., pp. 155-56).

It is generally accepted that Mantenga produced more than one version of his foreshortened Dead Christ. Moreover, the early history of the version in the Brera is surprisingly uncertain for such an iconic work in the history of art. “Un Cristo in scurto” (a foreshortened Christ) was listed among the paintings in Mantegna’s house at his death in a letter by the artist’s son Ludovico, written to the Marchese Francesco Gonzaga on 2 October 1506 (for this and the following references, see R. Lightbown, op. cit., pp. 421-422). Ludovico mentioned “quello Cristo in scurto” (that foreshortened Christ) a second time in a letter to Isabella d’Este dated 12 November 1507, describing how he sold it, along with The Introduction of the Cult of Cybele at Rome (London, National Gallery), to Sigismondo Gonzaga, bishop of Mantua. In 1531, the Gonzaga painting became part of the decorations of the apartments in the Castello for the new duchess, Margherita Paleologa, as described by Ippolito Calandra in a 28 October letter that refers to “quello Cristo ch’è in scurto” (that Christ who is foreshortened). Finally, it is last recorded in the Gonzaga collection in 1627, hanging in the Camerino delle Dame of the Palazzo Ducale, listed as “un quadro dipinto: N.S. deposto sopra il sepolcro in scurzo con cornice fregiate d’oro di mano del Mantegna” (a painting: Our Lord placed above the tomb, foreshortened, in a golden frame, by the hand of Mantegna).

As Tietze rightly observed, there is strong evidence to suggest that the celebrated painting in the Brera is not the painting recorded in these early documents. The Brera acquired its painting in 1824 from the painter Giuseppe Bossi, who had purchased it only seventeen years earlier, though he appears to have known of it as early as 1802 (R. Lightbown, op. cit., p. 421). Prior to Bossi, however, the provenance of the Brera painting is uncertain. Christiansen hypothesized that Bossi could have acquired the painting from the Aldobrandini, since the historic family was selling their collection in Rome at the beginning of the 19th century. A painting whose description perfectly matches that of the Brera Dead Christ was recorded in their 1603 inventory as “un Cristo in scorto su una tavola morto, con due dame che piangono, di mano di Andrea Mantegna” (A foreshortened Christ on a table, dead, with two women who mourn him, by the hand of Andrea Mantegna; K. Christiansen, op. cit., p. 158 note 30; see also E. Rossetti, op. cit., pp. 85-86 and M. Lucco, 2013, loc. cit.). Christiansen further suggested that if Bossi did in fact acquire his painting from the Aldobrandini, then there is “a strong presumption” that the Brera painting ultimately came from the Este collection in Ferrara (as was the case with the Adoration of the Shepherds in the Metropolitan Museum of Art), and that it may originally have been painted for Ercole d’Este (ibid., pp. 155 and 158 n. 30). Other versions of the Dead Christ appear in 17th-century inventories, although the question of their authorship and relationship to one another must remain open since they are untraced. These include a painting referenced in the 1661 inventory of Cardinal Mazarin’s Parisian palace, and one owned by Charles I and sold at Somerset House in May 1650 (this may be the same painting that was owned by Mazarin), which was also seen in 1665 by Gianlorenzo Bernini during his trip to the court of King Louis XIV (see R. Lightbown, loc. cit. and M. Lucco, 2013, loc. cit.).

Tietze’s identification of the Navarro Dead Christ as the one cited in Mantegna’s estate inventory hinged on the fact that unlike the 17th century references cited above, the 16th century sources do not make any reference to the threemourners present in the Brera painting. Notably, several scholars from Fiocco to Camesasca found these two additional figures so disturbing as to consider them later additions, although Lightbown and others reject this theory, arguing that the mourners were planned by Mantegna from the beginning. While the origin of the Navarro Dead Christ remains uncertain, it is tempting to wonder whether it preserves Mantegna’s first conception of his masterpiece – a painting which the artist appears to have kept in his personal collection, perhaps for private devotion. This theory is especially intriguing since a notation by Giuseppe Fiocco on the reverse of a photograph of the present painting, preserved in the archives of the Fondazione Cini, Venice, records its provenance as coming from the Canonici collection, in Ferrara, placing it in close proximity to the Este and Aldobrandini families (see G. Agosti, loc. cit.). Now that the Navarro Dead Christ has reemerged after having been unseen by scholars for over sixty years, further study will hopefully cast new light on Mantegna’s most iconic creation.

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