The question of this work’s attribution is a complex one and wavers between Sisto Badalocchio and Antonio Carracci, the nephew of Annibale, to whom we probably owe the lost prototype of the subject. The painting depicts the moment when the body of Christ, removed from the cross, is about to be laid in the tomb. The work is composed of the group of Mary with the pious women at the bottom left, and, on the right, by the group of John with Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus who, accompanied by Mary Magdalene, carries the winding sheet with the body of Jesus.
19th-century frame decorated with acanthus leaves and lotus flowers (157.5 x 205 x 16 cm)
Inventario Fidecommissario 1833, p. 37; purchased by Italian state, 1902.
The provenance of this work is unknown. It is mentioned for the first time in the Inventario Fidecommissario of 1833 as a work from the ‘Bolognese school’ and was attributed to Annibale Carracci by both Giovanni Piancastelli (1891) and Adolfo Venturi (1893). Over the next century, critics continued to believe that the work came from that circle, while suggesting the names of different artists. In 1906-7, Hans Tietze in fact ascribed it to Giovanni Lanfranco, an opinion rejected by Roberto Longhi (1928), who rather saw in the painting the hand of Antonio Carracci, Agostino’s son and Annibale’s nephew. For his part, Denis Mahon (1951, pp. 82-84) suggested Sisto Badalocchio. While Paola della Pergola noted traces of Lanfranco’s style in the canvas, she accepted Longhi’s thesis, publishing the work in the catalogue of the Galleria Borghese under the name of the young Carracci (1955, pp. 23-24).
Since then, the question of attribution has continued to be a complex one, as critics have still not reached agreement on the artist responsible for the work. Some have repeated the name of Sisto Badalocchio (Salerno 1956, pp. 35-36; Frisoni 1980, p. 34, no. 1; Whitfield 1996, pp. 125-126), while others have favoured that of Lanfranco (Aldo De Rinaldis 1948, p. 64; Marina Causa Picone 1989-90, p. 200; Fabrizio Lollini 1995, pp. 139-48, who dated the work to 1609-10). In 2007, Massimo Pirondini published the painting in his monograph on Antonio Carracci (2007, pp. 168-169); his 2004 volume on Badalocchio, meanwhile, had excluded its attribution to that artist. In Pirondini’s view, the figures represented here are comparable – if not perfectly identical – to those in other works by Antonio Carracci, with the same profiles and corporeal consistency.
The painting portrays the transport of Christ’s body to the tomb, in accordance with the narratives of the Gospels. The scene is divided into two parts: on the left, we see the group of the three Marys – the Virgin, Mary of Clopas and Mary Salome – while on the right we find John the Evangelist, Mary Magdalen, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, who is depicted wearing a luxuriant turban.
While clearly showing the influence of the Bolognese school, the work certainly alludes to Raphael’s famous Deposition (inv. no. 369). According to Pirondini, the painting in question employs several of Caravaggio’s typical techniques, in particular the use of twilight and the progressive fading of colours toward more sombre tones.