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Entombment of Christ

Cresti Domenico called Passignano

(Passignano 1559 - Florence 1638)

Executed by the Florentine painter Domenico Cresti, called Passignano, this work came from the collection of Benedetto Martiniani, who passed it on to Cardinal Scipione Borghese in 1620. It depicts the burial of Christ: Jesus’s body is here lifted by Joseph of Arimathea and Mary Magdalene, who participate in the pain of the Virgin Mary and John the Evangelist. This often represented scene is treated here with clarity and incisiveness, in line with the principles of Counter Reformation culture. Mentioned in all of the Galleria’s inventories, the canvas was certainly executed in Rome, as is suggested by the presence of a structure recalling Trajan’s Column at the centre of the composition.

Object details

1612 ca.
oil on canvas
cm 160 x 138

Salvator Rosa, 170 x 148 x 8.5 cm


Rome, collection of Benedetto Martiniani, ante 1620; Rome, Borghese Collection, 1650 (Manilli 1650); Inv. 1693, room IX, no. 17; Inv. 1790, room IV, no. 63; Inventario Fidecommissario 1833, p. 35; purchased by Italian state, 1902.

  • 1992 Roma, Palazzo delle Esposizioni;
  • 2002 Reggio Emilia, Palazzo Magnani e Chiostri di San Domenico;
  • 2010 Possagno, Museo e Gipsoteca canoviana;
  • 2011 Roma, Palazzo Venezia.
Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 2011 Nicoletta Naldoni (frame)


This painting is described in the Borghese inventory of 1693 in these words: ‘a large work on canvas with Jesus taken down from the Cross, the Virgin Mary and other three figures, at no. 130. Engraved gilded frame, from Martiniani’. Evidently, this entry has escaped the attention of critics: as it makes clear, the work came from the collection of Benedetto Martiniani, an unknown figure who owned a vineyard near the Casino di Porta Pinciana, which he transferred to Cardinal Scipione Borghese in 1620, together with a number of paintings. The theory put forth by Paola della Pergola (1959) that the powerful prelate received the work directly from Passignano is therefore untenable. Likewise, the claim that it corresponds to the canvas mentioned by Scipione Francucci in 1613 cannot be supported (in this regard, see also Herrmann Fiore 1992): Francucci was the author of a short poem on the Borghese Collection, in which he indeed wrote of a ‘Christ descended from the Cross, by Chevalier Passignano’, with the Virgin ‘at the feet of the bleeding Christ’; the latter motif, however, is in fact not included in the work in question.

Rightly attributed to Cresti by Iacomo Manilli (1650) as well as in all the Borghese inventories, this Entombment certainly drew inspiration from a similar painting by Lodovico Cigoli (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, inv. no. 204), which critics have dated to 1599 (Petrioli Tofani 1980): in addition to the subject, the work in question is similar to the painting in Vienna in a number of respects, including the chromatic softness derived from the Veneto school and that monumentality typical of the works of Santi di Tito and Annibale Carracci (see Baldassarri 2002). This combination of features closely coincides with Giulio Mancini’s description of Passignano’s style: ‘of a manner between the Florentine and Venetian schools, with the great technique, resolution and colouring of a master’ (in Tiarini 2000).

The work depicts the descent of Christ’s body from the Cross, held by Joseph of Arimathea and Mary Magdalene, who is portrayed kneeling in front of the Virgin and John the Evangelist. In addition to Michelangelo’s Pietà in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo in Florence, the source of this work is a 1510 woodcut by Albrecht Dürer (Herrmann Fiore 1992), with which the Borghese canvas shares several compositional elements: the representation of a kneeling figure in the foreground with an arm extended and the depiction of Christ sitting on a stone placed at an angle. While Anna Maria Petroli Tofani (1986) dated the Borghese canvas to 1599, Joan Lee Nissman (1986) rightly proposed moving its execution up to roughly 1612, a hypothesis accepted by other critics (Gasparrini 2011), including the present writer.

Antonio Iommelli

  • S. Francucci, La Galleria dell’Illustrissimo e Reverendissimo Signor Scipione Cardinale Borghese cantata in versi [1613], Arezzo 1647, St. 318;
  • I. Manilli, Villa Borghese fuori di Porta Pinciana, Roma 1650, p. 85;
  • G. Piancastelli, Catalogo dei quadri della Galleria Borghese, in Archivio Galleria Borghese, 1891, p. 268;
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 170;
  • H. Voss, Die Molerei der Spätrenaissance in Rom und Florenz, Berlin 1920, II, p. 404;
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle Gallerie Italiane, I, La R. Galleria Borghese, Roma 1928, p. 211;
  • P. della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, II, Roma 1959, pp. 41-42, n. 57;
  • J. L. Nisman, Domenico Cresti il Passignano 1559-1638. A Tuscan painter in Florence and Rome, Tesi di dottorato, Columbia University, New York 1979, p. 238, n. 68;
  • A. M. Petrioli Tofani, in Il primato del disegno. Firenze e la Toscana dei Medici nell’Europa del ’500, catalogo della mostra (Firenze, Palazzo Strozzi, 1980), Firenze 1980, p. 156;
  • J. L. Nisman, Domenico Cresti il Passignano, in Il Seicento fiorentino: arte a Firenze da Ferdinando I a Cosimo III, catalogo della mostra (Firenze, Palazzo Strozzi, 1986-1987), Firenze 1986, pp. 141-143;
  • K. Herrmann Fiore, in Invisibilia. Rivedere i capolavori. Vedere i progetti, catalogo della mostra (Roma, Palazzo delle Esposizioni, 1992), a cura di M. E. Tittoni, S. Guarino, Roma 1992, p. 29;
  • F. Baldassari, in Alessandro Tiarini: la grande stagione della pittura del '600 a Reggio, catalogo della mostra (Reggio Emilia, Palazzo Magnani-Chiostri di San Domenico, 2002) a cura di D. Benati, A. Mazza, Milano 2002, p. 120, n. 25;
  • 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. 115;
  • F. Gasparrini, in Roma al tempo di Caravaggio (1600-1630), catalogo della mostra (Roma, Palazzo Venezia, 2011), a cura di R. Vodret, Milano 2011, p. 98, n. III.15.