The Coronation of the Virgin with Saints Luke, Dominic, and John the Evangelist
(Bartolomeo Passerotti (Passarotti))


Between 1575 and the early 1580s Bartolomeo Passerotti was the most pre-eminent painter in Bologna. Although he is perhaps best remembered for his lively portraits and satirical genre scenes, he also produced a number of impressive altarpieces which exemplify the contemporary Counter Reformation concern with religious decorum and clarity of content. The Coronation of the Virgin is a major new addition to this aspect of Passerotti’s oeuvre. It is signed with a sparrow (passero) sitting on the open book at the bottom centre of the canvas, which according to the seventeenth-century historian Io. Antonio Bumaldo was the artist’s symbol.

Passerotti’s altarpiece is divided into the realms of Heaven and Earth. In the celestial zone the Virgin is crowned Queen of Heaven by Christ, God the Father and the Holy Ghost, who together hold three gold crowns above her head. They are accompanied by a host of angels bearing branches of pink roses. Some of this abundant floral tribute floats gentle towards earth, where Saints Luke, Dominic and John the Evangelist kneel. The two Evangelists are accompanied by their usual attributes: Saint Luke’s cow and Saint John’s eagle. Saint Dominic, who stands between them holds a rosary in each hand.

The patron and original location of this altarpiece have not been traced, but one might hypothesise that it was intended for a chapel dedicated to the Coronation of the Virgin. The inclusion of the three saints at the bottom may be linked to the patron or his family. It should be noted, however, that paring of Saint Dominic with the two Evangelists probably refers to an episode in the saint’s life that is rarely depicted. When Dominic was in Rome Saints Peter and Paul apparently appeared to him and presented him with keys and the books of the gospels. But the cascade of pink roses and the rosary in Dominic’s hand suggest that the altarpiece might have been painted for a church or chapel associated with the cult of the Rosary.

According to legend the Virgin gave Dominic a string of wooden beads as a guide for saying his prayers and in turn he distributed rosary beads throughout the world. The practice of saying a litany of fifteen prayers counted on the beads was ‘invented’ by the Dominican Aalano de la Roche (1428-1475). The practice itself was codified on 17 September 1569 by the Dominican Pope Pius V, who claimed that ‘ the rosary or psalter of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a very pious way of praying and praising God’. In 1573 the Bolognese Pope Gregory XIII established a Rosary Day, but even before this Saint Dominic had held a special place in Bologna, where his body is buried in the church of San Domenico. After the edicts of Pius and Gregory, however, there was a resurgence of interest in his cult and that of the Rosary in Bologna.

In the late 1570s and early 1580s images of the Madonna del Rosario abound in Passerotti’s work. The extent to which he seemed to favour this subject has even led to the suggestion that he had a privileged relationship with the Dominican order. Although this is difficult to prove, it is true that the theme does appear in the altarpieces he painted for Castel San Pietro and Sassoleone as well as the pictures now in the Seminario Metropolitano in Modena and the Pinacoteca Civica in Budrio. To this group we can now add The Coronation of the Virgin, which for stylistic reasons can also be dated c. 1583.
Like the picture now in the Seminario Metropolitano in Modena (see fig.1), which has been dated between 1580 and 1583, a host of small angels swarm around the Virgin distributing roses and in this case rosaries as well. Their small heads, long legs and dimpled buttocks are strikingly similar to those in the Coronation. So too is Passerotti’s use of intense, almost acidic colours. He contrasts broad patches of tomato red, lime green, lemon yellow, sky blue and hot pink for their decorative effects. In the case of the Coronation of the Virgin artificial manipulation of the colour is complimented by the use of a highly polished surface. Thus, even on this large scale the altarpiece has an enamelled jewel-like quality. A similar effect is found in Passerotti’s Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple (Bologna, Pinacoteca Nazionale), which can be secularly dated to 1583, and in which the figures are woven together through the brightness of a dazzling chromatic thread.

119 1/4 x 76 1/4 in. (302.9 x 193.7 cm)
Oil on canvas

Private collection, France.

Where is It?
Acquired through the Matthiesen Gallery by the Art Gallery of South Australia 2003
Historical Period
Mannerism & Cinquecento - 1530-1600
Religious: New Testament
Italian - Bolognese
2001-2001: An Art Odyssey (1500-1720)
Hardbound millennium catalogue with special binding with 58 colour plates and 184 black and white illustrations, 360 pages. £35 or $50 plus p.& p.

(Click on image above)
Price band
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