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Christ in the Sepulchre

roman school

First documented in connection with the Borghese Collection in 1693, this painting was initially attributed to Raphael and later to the Carracci school. Yet critics subsequently rejected its association with artistic circles of Bologna, rather proposing those of Rome and – more recently – the name of Giulio Romano. The panel represents John the Evangelist, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea as they place Christ’s body in the tomb. To the right are depicted Mary Magdalene with Our Lady of Sorrows, held up by the pious women.

Object details

seconda metà del XVI secolo
oil on panel
cm 84 x 71

19th-century frame with cymatium moulding, 107.5 x 94 x 10.5 cm


Rome, Borghese Collection, 1693 (Inv. 1693, room II, no. 23); Inventario Fidecommissario 1833, p. 17; purchased by Italian state, 1902.

Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1906 - Luigi Bartolucci (support);
  • 2002/03 - Andrea Parri (frame);
  • 2008 - Laura Ferretti.


The provenance of this painting is still unknown. It was first recorded as forming part of the Borghese Collection in 1693, when the inventory of that year described it as ‘a painting 4 by 3 [spans] on panel with the Sepulchre of Our Lord with many figures around the Virgin with the Apostles, engraved gilded frame, at no. 183, by Raphael of Urbino’. The mistaken reference to Raphael was changed in the 1833 Inventario Fidecommissario, which rather ascribed it to the Carracci school, an attribution maintained by both Giovanni Piancastelli (1891) and Adolfo Venturi (1893).

The first to contest the painting’s association with Bolognese artistic circles was Roberto Longhi (1928), who rather suggested a connection with Roman painting, in particular a derivation from the works of Siciolante da Sermoneta. To sustain his theory, Longhi pointed to the mechanical character of the work and the hardness of the faces and the folds of the clothing. Paola della Pergola (1959) concurred, although she did not propose a more specific attribution, writing only of the style of Polidoro da Caravaggio. Taking up this proposal, later critics suggested the name of Giulio Romano (see Herrmann Fiore 2006). The present writer, however, dissents from this view, given the fixity of the gestures and the ingenuity of the expressions.

The painting represents a subject dear to Christians, which has been portrayed frequently in the world of art, namely the burial of Christ’s body. The panel in fact depicts Nicodemus as he places Jesus’s mortal remains in the tomb, aided by Joseph of Arimathea and John the Evangelist. Behind them, other figures approach the scene: Mary Magdalene, identifiable by the vase of ointments, and one of the pious women who according to tradition followed Christ along the entire Calvary together with Mary of Clopas and Mary Salome, also shown here next to the Virgin. On the left behind John, a fourth woman is represented viewing the burial with curiosity – perhaps she is meant to allude to the patron of the work.

Antonio Iommelli

  • G. Piancastelli, Catalogo dei quadri della Galleria Borghese, in Archivio Galleria Borghese, 1891, p. 187;
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 154;
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle Gallerie Italiane, I, La R. Galleria Borghese, Roma 1928, p. 205;
  • P. della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, II, Roma 1959, pp. 102-103, n. 147;
  • K. Herrmann Fiore, Galleria Borghese Roma scopre un tesoro. Dalla pinacoteca ai depositi un museo che non ha più segreti, San Giuliano Milanese 2006, p. 100.