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Noah’s Sacrifice

Workshop of da Ponte Jacopo called Jacopo Bassano

(Bassano del Grappa 1510 - 1592)

This canvas once formed part of the estate of Olimpia Aldobrandini. It was executed in the well-known workshop of Jacopo Da Ponte, called Bassano: together with his sons Francesco, Leandro and Gerolamo, the artist from Vicenza produced a series of works, some of which depicted Biblical themes in rural settings, paintings that were destined for the market and private collections. This work portrays the precise moment in which Noah has just left the ark and renders thanks to God by taking ‘of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offer[ing] burnt offerings on the altar’ (Genesis 8:20). As we can see, the scene develops into the background, beyond the two huts under construction, while the foreground accommodates the animals as well as part of the elderly patriarch’s family – those that were saved from the great Flood. Characterised by a noticeably high horizon, the landscape serves as the fulcrum of the entire composition.

 


Object details

Inventory
105
Date
Late 16th century
Classification
Period
Medium
oil on canvas
Dimensions
cm 135 x 191
Frame

Salvator Rosa

Provenance

Rome, collection of Ippolito Aldobrandini, 1611 (Della Pergola 1955); Rome, collection of Olimpia Aldobrandini, 1682 (Della Pergola 1955; Ead. 1963); Rome, Borghese Collection, 1790 (Inv. 1790, room I, n. 19); Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese 1833, p. 16. Purchased by Italian state, 1902.

 

Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1958-59 Alvaro Esposti

Commentary

This painting came from the estate of Olimpia Aldobrandini. It was donated to her by Cardinal Ippolito Aldobrandini in 1611 (Della Pergola 1955). The 1682 inventory of the wealthy noblewoman described the work as ‘a painting of Noah’s ark, by Bassano, with a black frame, four spans high, as recorded in the said inventory on page 229, no. 345, and in that of the Cardinal on page 132’ (Inv. Aldobrandini 1682; see Della Pergola 1955; 1963).

The traditional attribution to Bassano was modified by Adolfo Venturi (1893) to the ‘school of Jacopo’ and by Roberto Longhi (1928) to Francesco, one of the many sons of Jacopo, who was active in his father’s busy workshop together with his brothers Leandro and Gerolamo.

In 1931, Edoardo Arslan revived the earlier attribution to the school of Jacopo, cautiously proposing the name of Leandro. Yet Paola della Pergola (1955) was not persuaded, proposing rather that the fluorescent, vibrating quality of the colours and the marked dramatic force of the figures indicated that the work was by ‘a follower of Jacopo’. Yet she put her suggestion forth with much hesitation, as she had not been able to view the work from up close (at the time it was in a storeroom of the Italian embassy in the Vatican). Arslan took up the question once more, dissenting from Della Pergola’s view and confirming his own opinion expressed several decades earlier, namely that the unusual arrangement of the composition pointed in the direction of ‘the school of Jacopo, close to Leandro’ (Arslan 1960).

In 1995, Alessandro Ballarin took up Longhi’s view that the canvas was by Francesco, dating it to roughly 1574. Yet his view did not meet with the approval of Kristina Herrmann Fiore, who published the work in the 2006 catalogue of images of the Galleria Borghese under the name of Gerolamo Bassano.

Given the impossibility of studying the work at first hand, the present author deems it opportune to publish it as by the ‘workshop of Jacopo’. The question is further complicated by the existence of several other versions, including one Noah’s Sacrifice in Potsdam (Sansoucci, Schlösser und Garten, Bildergalerie, inv. no. GKI 5265, see Ballarin 1988) and another in Kroměříž (Archibiskupsky Zamek a Zahroy, inv. no 49; see Ballarin 1988), from which the work in question borrowed a number of figures and motifs. It is further likely that this work used yet another version as its model, namely the Noah Giving Thanks to God in Liverpool (Walker Art Gallery, see Ballarin 1988, p. 2; Rearick 1992, p. CLIX), in order to produce serial compositions. Another possible hypothesis is that the composition began with a preliminary sketch by Jacopo – or more likely Francesco – to which a less skilled collaborator added the animals. This was indeed the method used for other works from this prolific workshop; this assumption would also account for the lack of a signature, which is almost always present in the other versions, as well as the defects in the proportions, which have led critics to suppose the participation of more than one painter in the composition. Finally, it is further possible – as Alessandro Ballarin (1995) suggested – that the Borghese painting formed part of a cycle of stories of the Flood, an idea conceived by Jacopo in 1574 (Ballarin 1988) and carried out in collaboration with Francesco; indeed Ballirin attributed the canvas in question to Francesco only.

Among the works closest to the Borghese painting, we should also note the version held at the Museo del Prado in Madrid (Noah after the Flood) , inv. 1857, no. 610), which in the past was attributed to Leandro but which today is ascribed to the ‘workshop of Jacopo’.

Antonio Iommelli




Bibliography
  • G. Piancastelli, Catalogo dei quadri della Galleria Borghese, in Archivio Galleria Borghese, 1891, p. 37;
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 86,
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle Gallerie Italiane, I, La R. Galleria Borghese, Roma 1928, p. 187;
  • W. Arslan, I Bassano, Milano 1931, p. 349;
  • P. della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, I, Roma 1955, p. 102, n. 182;
  • E. Arslan, I Bassano, II, Milano 1960, p. 365;
  • P. Della Pergola, Gli Inventari Aldobrandini: l’Inventario del 1682 (III), in “Arte Antica e Moderna”, XXII, 1963, p. 177;
  • A. Ballarin, Jacopo Bassano. S. Pietro risana lo storpio, in Pittori Padani e Toscani, 1988, pp. 1-13.
  • W. R. Rearick, Vite e opere di Jacopo dal Ponte, detto Bassano, in Jacopo Bassano: c. 1510-1592, catalogo della mostra (Bassano del Grappa, Museo Civico, 1992; Fort Worth, Kimbell Art Museum, 1992), a cura di B. L. Brown e P. Marini, 1992, Bologna 1992, pp. CXXXIX-CXLI, CLVIII-CLIX;
  • A. Ballarin, Jacopo Bassano, II, Padova 1995, pp. 291, 403;
  • 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. 38.