Guariento di Arpo was the leading painter in Padua and Venice in the third quarter of the 14th century. He must have already been a master when first recorded in 1338, thirty years after Giotto left Padua and a year after the great Florentine master's death. Although the two artists may have never met, it is certain that Giotto's frescoes in the Arena Chapel had a profound impact on the younger painter. In Guariento's work, Giottesque monumentality is fused with the lyrical, byzantinizing style and rich palette of the great Venetian Paolo Veneziano, whose work was the prevailing influence in painting in the Veneto at that time. The resultant beguiling aesthetic would become the dominating inspiration for a generation of later painters in Padua, including Altichiero da Zevio and Giusto de' Menabuoi.
Numerous documents recording Guariento's prestigious commissions survive, the last of which describes his contributions to the decoration of the Hall of the Big Council in the Palazzo Ducale, Venice (1365-1368). A little more than a decade earlier, Guariento was employed by the Carrara family, lords of Padua, to decorate their private chapel, and it is in these works that his art is perhaps at its courtliest and most elegant. The present exquisitely painted Christ as the Man of Sorrows dates to this period. Its precise and delicate attention to detail is not always found in Guariento’s larger frescoes or panels, and the painting can be counted among the artist's most refined works, made at a particularly sophisticated moment in his career. The richly decorated gold ground; gauzy, ephemeral loincloth; meticulously depicted porphyry tomb; and purposefully delineated musculature and hair all attest to the exceptional quality of the present work and reveal the care the artist lavished upon it. It is tempting to wonder whether this, too, could have been a Carrara commission, made for a member of the ruling family for his or her personal devotion.
The attribution of this previously unpublished panel was first suggested by Keith Christiansen on the basis of firsthand inspection (verbal communication, January 2016). On the basis of photographs, Dott.ssa Zuleika Murat, whose monograph on the artist is forthcoming, has confirmed the attribution to Guariento and suggested a dating to c. 1350-1355 (written communication, January 2016). Dott.ssa Murat has also pointed out that the body of Christ in the present work can be compared to that in two other works by the artist – one in a monumental crucifix in the Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge (inv. 1928.114) and a second in a more comparably-sized Crucifixion in the Pinacoteca Nazionale, Ferrara. She has also noted that the freehand vegetal tooling in the border here recurs in several of Guariento’s works from this period, including the Madonna and Child in the Courtauld Gallery, London (fig. 1). Dott.ssa Murat has furthermore observed the similarities in composition between the present work and the pinnacle formerly atop Paolo Veneziano's altarpiece for Piove di Sacco, and wonders if this Christ as the Man of Sorrows might have functioned in a similar original context. Prof. Andrea De Marchi, who also supports the attribution on the basis of firsthand inspection, has proposed an alternative hypothesis, suggesting that, due to its refinement of handling, this was more likely to have been an independent object to be held in one's hands, possibly a pax, which would have been passed around the laity during Mass and kissed (verbal communication, January 2016). Prof. De Marchi further notes that the Pater Noster inscription would have been particularly appropriate in this context, as the pax was introduced into the service between the recitation of the Pater Noster and the Agnus Dei.
We are grateful to Keith Christiansen, Zuleika Murat, and Andrea de Marchi for their assistance preparing this catalogue entry.