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The Lamentation

Benvenuti Giovanni Battista called Ortolano

(Ferrara c. 1487 - after 1527)

This painting, which was removed from the church of the Porta di Sotto (known as the Madonnina, or ‘little Madonna’) in Ferrara in 1620, was documented shortly after in the collection of Cardinal Scipione Borghese. The episode of the Lamentation is set in a Giorgionesque landscape. The clear influence of Raphael, represented in the Borghese Collection by his renowned Deposition, on the figures and composition overall has led scholars to imagine that Ortolano was in Rome during the second half of the decade.

Object details

oil on panel trasferred to aluminium panel
cm 241 x 181,5

Ferrara, church of the Madonna della Porta di sotto, known as La Madonnina (Brisighella c. 1700-1735, ed. 1991). Documented in the Borghese Collection in a bill issued by the frame-maker and gilder Annibale Durante, 1622. Manilli 1650, p. 85; Inv. 1693, room VII, no. 350; Inv. 1790, room II, no. 17; Inventario fidecommissario Borghese 1833, p. 8. Purchased by the Italian state, 1902.

Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1904, Luigi Bartolucci
  • 1907, Luigi Bartolucci
  • 1914, Titi Venturini Papari
  • 1919, Tito Venturini Papari
  • 1932, Tito Venturini Papari
  • 1934, Tito Venturini Papari
  • 1942, Carlo Matteucci
  • 1950, Augusto Cecconi Principe
  • 1953, Jolanda Scalia Ventura
  • 1965, Alvaro Esposti
  • 1972-1974, Ottorino Nonformale (transferring of the painting)
  • 1993, ?


As revealed by Vittoria Romani (in Ballarin 1994-1995), correcting the Galleria Borghese’s catalogue of paintings (Della Pergola 1955), this large altarpiece by Ortolano did not come from the Aldobrandini Collection but directly from the church of the Madonna della Porta di sotto (known as La Madonnina) in Ferrara, which is also confirmed by the incompatibility of the measurements of the two works cited in the documents.

In Jacopo Manilli’s description of the Casino di Porta Pinciana (1650), this painting was in the Room of the Moor along with three other paintings of episodes from the Passion of Christ: the Deposition by Raphael (inv. 369), a Pietà by Federico Zuccari (inv. 398) and a Pietà by Passignano (inv. 349), whcih were probably displayed together because of Scipione Borghese’s penchant for putting works on the same theme in the same room (Herrmann Fiore 1998).

In the background, a Jerusalem that strongly resembles Ferrara’s fortified walls focuses the viewer’s gaze, bringing the horizon closer and drawing the eye to Golgotha. On the hill, the bodies of the thieves are still on their crosses, while the cross of Christ, recognisable by the banner inscribed with the initials INRI, is empty and there is a ladder resting against it. In the foreground, the emotional, desperate scene around the body of Christ is dominated by the prayerful, pained pose of John the Evangelist and the devotional gesture of Joseph of Arimathea, who holds the nails of the Cross in his hand, displaying them as one would during the ostension of relics. On the left, in front of a small patch of woods, St Christopher is crossing a lake carrying the Christ Child on his shoulders. On the right, behind Mary Magdalene, who is portrayed with a theatrical expression of anguish, there is a portrait-like depiction of a man in shadow who has been identified as Antonio Costabili (Daffrà 1998), an important patron of Garofalo, judge of the Savi of Ferrara 1510 and 1527 and founder of the church where the painting was displayed.

Replaced on the altar with a copy by Giulio Cromer (Ferrara, 1572–1632), the painting was seized by Scipione Borghese, who had it framed in 1622.

Based on comparison with a painting of the same subject that was in the church of San Cristoforo dei Bastardini and is now in the Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples (inv. Q 73), inscribed with the date 1521 on the cartouche in the foreground on the left, the large altarpiece in the Galleria Borghese can be dated to a period prior to that of the Naples work, between 1515 and 1520. This dating is also suggested by the artist’s style, combining the influence of Cosmè Tura and Mantegna, as seen in the laborious depiction of ribbons and drapery and attention to the smallest details rendered with astonishing drawing skill reminiscent of chasing, with that of Raphael, particularly in the gracefulness of the figures, an element that must have given Scipione the idea to hang the two works together. Last but not least, the painting is also marked by a strong emotional and affectionate air that is accentuated by the artist’s lively, masterful use of colour.

Lara Scanu

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