The 'La Lignamine' Crucifixion
(Polidoro da Caravaggio Caldara)


Polidoro da Caravaggio
(Caravaggio, c. 1495-1499 – Messina 1543)

Polidoro was born in Caravaggio, a small town in the province of Bergamo, in the last years of the fifteenth century. From the two most important sixteenth-century sources, Giovan Paolo Lomazzo and Giorgio Vasari, we learn that his last name was Caldara and that he was born in 1499. Ludovico Dolce, however, placed the year of his birth in 1495. Vasari recorded that he died in Messina in 1543 and Lomazzo added that Polidoro was murdered when he was 44 years old by a member of his own workshop, while he was trying to rob him. Although his life was not particularly long, it was full and adventurous. Like another painter from Caravaggio, Michelangelo Merisi, his time was divided between his native Lombardy, Rome with its grand papal cantieri, the Spanish viceroy of Naples and Messina in southern Italy, and finally Malta. A few red chalk drawings, which can be dated between 1527 and 1543, were inscribed ‘Retrato de Polidoro’ by the artist, collector and contemporary commentator, Francisco de Hollanda (Fig. 1). Most likely the thickly bearded man they depict with the bizarre hats and expressive, but prematurely aged face, is Polidoro (see Frontispiece).

Polidoro’s life and artistic activity can be reconstructed both through Vasari’s well-informed account and contemporary literary sources, especially those of the Neapolitan Pietro Summonte and Colagiacomo d’Alibrando of Messina. There are also a few archival documents in which his name is mentioned. Probably around 1515 Polidoro went to Rome, where he soon joined Raphael’s workshop. According to Vasari, he first worked as an assistant helping to prepare the plaster for the Vatican Logge. Around the age of eighteen, his apprenticeship within the workshop took place under Giovanni da Udine in the company of the even younger and more gifted Perin del Vaga. By the time Polidoro was eighteen he had demonstrated such passion and ability that he had graduated to painting frescoes and, in the 1517-1518 Roman census, he is listed as maestro. His hand may be identified in the work undertaken by Raphael and his shop in the Stufetta and Loggetta of Cardinal Bernardo Bibbiena. It can also be seen in the detached ceiling from one of the rooms in Leo X’s apartment and in parts of the decoration of the Vatican Logge (1517-1519) the fourth, seventh, tenth, eleventh and twelfth vaults. These works indicate that Polidoro specialised in painting grotesques and landscapes that elaborated on themes found in classical antiquity or nature. He immediately developed these abilities into a rapid and expressive style, painting bizarre scenes that were typical of a certain branch of Raphaelism. He also readily absorbed the lessons of Michelangelo and of two Spanish painters, Pedro Machuca and Alonso Berruguete, who themselves had oscillated between Raphael’s and Michelangelo’s practices, synthesising these into an individualistic foreign style.

Preparatory drawings as well as documentary sources confirm that after the Logge’s vault was completed, Polidoro and Perin del Vaga decorated its lower registers with Biblical scenes painted in grisaille (now lost). This experience greatly influenced Polidoro’s later career. He and Perino created a type of partnership and around 1520, shortly before the death of Raphael, they decorated the facade and the interior of Melchiorre Baldassini’s palace. When Perino left Rome for Florence in 1522, Polidoro struck out on his own, undertaking for the commander of the Swiss Guard, Gaspare Roïst, the fresco decoration of a chapel in Santa Maria della Pietà al Camposanto Teutonico in the Vatican (1522-1523). During these years, Polidoro became a true specialist in a style of chiaroscuro painting that gave the illusion of bas-relief. Together with Baldassarre Peruzzi’s pupil Maturino da Firenze, he decorated the façades and courtyards of at least forty Roman palaces with scenes from Roman history or mythology.

Unfortunately very little survives of these decorations, which Lomazzo described as ‘marziale’. Their bellicose scenes must have been a violent and dynamic interpretation of the antique. All that remains are some fragments on the façades of the celebrated Ricci and Milesi palaces and a few heavily damaged frescoes which have been detached from a house in the Piazza Madama (Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica, Rome) and the Casino del Bufalo (Museo di Roma, Rome). The many drawings and engravings produced between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries testify to the success of this genre and to Polidoro’s fame. The Palazzo Baldassini friezes, the damaged frescoes in Santa Maria della Pietà al Camposanto Teutonico, the frieze at the base of the walls in the Sala di Costantino in the Vatican, the polychromed frescoes from the Villa Lante which were carried out in collaboration with Giulio Romano (now in the Biblioteca Hertziana, Rome), the extraordinary landscapes, putti and saints in the Cappella di Fra’ Mariano in San Silvestro al Quirinale as well as his many beautiful life studies and other drawings demonstrate the uncontrolled energy of Polidoro’s development during the turbulence years before 1527. These works not only reflect his fascination with aggressive style of Michelangelo, but also his interest in the more sophisticated mannerism of Perino, Rosso and Parmigianino. At the same time, Polidoro’s work always exhibits an original and lively appreciation of the natural world, coupled with a confident understanding of classical antiquity.

The Sack of Rome in the spring and summer of 1527 forced Polidoro, along with many of his contemporaries, to flee Rome for Naples. According to Summonte, Polidoro had already travelled there in 1523-24 to paint the façades and courtyards of noble families’ palaces with scenes from Roman history. In Naples, where he remained for about a year after the Sack, Polidoro completed a few decorative projects, including the palace of the antiquarian and literary figure Berardino Rota. The ceiling panels from the Palazzo Rota, which are decorated with amorini, nymphs and the story of Psyche, are now divided between the Museé du Louvre in Paris and the Royal Collection at Hampton Court. The most important of Polidoro’s Neapolitan commissions, however, were his altarpieces for churches and confraternities such as Santa Maria delle Grazie alla Pescheria. Among the works, which survive from this period, are some figures of saints (part of the Pescheria altarpiece) and The Entombment (both now in the Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples). In them it is clearly possible to detect an increasingly determined shift on Polidoro’s part towards a more emotionally charged style that is both expressive and dramatic, yet retaining a strong naturalistic sense. This new stylistic direction is especially evident in the works he executed in Messina, where he is documented from the autumn of 1528 and where he would remain until his death in 1543. Polidoro is credited with introducing the Roman ‘maniera moderna’ to Sicily. He soon became recognised as the primary artist in Messina, where he also worked as an architect (the side doors of the Duomo are his). In addition, he designed the ephemeral all’antica structures for the triumphal entry of Charles V after his Tunis campaign in 1535. For the occasion Polidoro created spectacular arches based on ancient Roman prototypes. The majority of his eccentric, manneristic decorations are known through a sketchbook (now in Berlin, but whose leaves were partially lost during World War II).

Two altarpieces, however, do survive from Polidoro’s years in Messina – The Way to Calvary (Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples) and The Adoration of the Shepherds (Museo Regionale, Messina). The first was recorded in 1534 by Alibrando in the oratory of the Catalan brotherhood attached to the church of the Santissima Annunziata, but may have been begun as early as 1530. The latter, commissioned for Santa Maria dell’Altobasso in 1533, was probably only completed in 1536 with the considerable assistance of Stefano Giordano, a local painter. There are also a few fragments from a polyptych, commissioned by Straticò Giovanni Marullo for the church of the Carmine, as well as numerous works on panel, including a crucifix for the Knights of Malta (Co-Cattedrale di San Giovanni, Valletta),which was also completed with Giordano’s assistance.

The realistic, violent and expressive style of these works, as well as their strong religious sentiment finds a parallel in the Imitatio Cristi and its concept of forging a direct emotional connection with the public. During Polidoro’s time in Messina there was a tendency towards a spirituality, close to heterodoxy, that spread through some confraternities and religious orders. The verses that Alibrando dedicated in his Spasmo di Maria Vergine to Polidoro’s Way to Calvary are an indication of this spirituality and of the real impact that Polidoro’s work had upon the public. Polidoro’s late works, which were executed primarily for the Capuchin and Franciscan orders between 1536 and 1543, reflect this radical religious sentiment. Now divided between museums in Naples, Palermo and Messina, these paintings reveal how highly personalised Polidoro’s style had become with its brown and fairly monochromatic colour, its liquid, sketchy brushstrokes and its strong, dynamic maniera. In its expressiveness, Polidoro’s work comes close to the late style of Michelangelo. At times it is so intense that it deforms the figures and faces, creating an almost frightening effect. His last work represents a complete departure from the serene and classical sense of form that he had learned long ago in Raphael’s shop.

The Lamentation, c. 1540

Oil on a four-plank panel, 127.7 x 193.5 cm (50.2 x 76.1 in.)

Provenance: Probably commissioned by Archbishop Antonino la Lignamine circa 1537
Private collection, Naples or Southern Italy, until c. 1820
Private collection Ireland, until c.1980
The Matthiesen Gallery, London

The scholarly attention and renewed appreciation of Polidoro da Caravaggio’s late phase is a phenomena of the last fifteen or sixteen years. Throughout the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, writers such as Colagiacomo d’Alibrando, Giorgio Vasari, Placido Samperi, Francesco Susinno and Agostino Gallo tended to only highlight those masterpieces Polidoro painted in the 1530s in Messina. They emphasised works such as The Way to Calvary in Santissima Annunziata, The Adoration of the Shepherds in Santa Maria dell’Altobasso, the polyptych in the church of the Carmine and the decorations for the entry of Charles V. However, the same sources were equally aware of Polidoro’s late, more unsettling production. In his Vita di Polidoro, Susinno mentions paintings in churches and private collections in Messina that can now be identified as belonging to his extreme late period. Between the end of the eighteenth and the middle of the nineteenth centuries, Luigi Lanzi, Gustav Waagen, and Gioacchino Di Marzo all described late works by Polidoro. Lanzi recorded a few ‘storie della Passione… a olio’, which he had seen in the Roman studio of the English painter Gavin Hamilton. He described them as `venutegli dalla Sicilia…preziose pel disegno e per le invenzioni’, but added that they were marked by a ‘tingere…pallido e scuro’. At Alton Towers in the Duke of Sutherland’s collection, Waagen had seen a small panel depicting The Crossing of the Red Sea painted ‘in his dark brown tone, but spirited in composition and execution’. Di Marzo described a few private devotional works in Sicilian collections, in which ‘il colorito è oscuro e indistinto, non come nelle più grandi e stupende tavole’. In 1855 Burckhardt, in defense of Raphael and Classicism, condemned the ‘strange, large Way to Calvary in the Naples museum’, for being founded on ‘vulgarity, and common daily life, considered [by the artist] an essential condition of energy’. He also found ‘a mix of this concept and of false classicism’ in several other small-scale pictures from Messina, conserved in the Real Museo Borbonico, Naples, that are now considered to be among Polidoro’s last works.

It is in the more recent studies of Philip Pouncey, Ferdinando Bologna, Evelina Borea, Raffaello Delogu and Alessandro Marabottini (1954-1969) that an idea of Polidoro’s late production begins to take form and firmly establish itself in the literature. They published a series of panel paintings, sketches with small figures, and finished compositions with larger figures, that were primarily deposited in storage in the museums of Naples, Palermo and Messina. These works are certainly unique in the context of the figurative panorama of early sixteenth-century Italian art. They bear a similarity to one another in their summary, rapid and impetuous technique. Polidoro was indifferent to the quality and refinement of his supports, often reusing doors or furniture, and his means of preparation, increasingly applying only a thin layer of glue and gesso. The precarious condition of his late works is partly the result of his technical carelessness and partly due to the state of any artistic treasure in Messina, which has recurrently suffered from the devastating effect of earthquakes. Finally, all these works are characterised by the progressive and drastic reduction of Polidoro’s palette, which steadily evolved into a monochromatic brownish tone. Many of the late works depict scenes from the Passion of Christ, in which Polidoro accentuates the expressive and dramatic component. At times he pushes his figure style towards the limit of deformity as a means of expressing a mystical, impassioned and very personal religious sentiment.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, scholars expressed a degree of uncertainty about the attribution of these late works. This was particularly apparent in Delogu’s study on the small panels in Palermo as well as in Marabottini’s work on the Seilern Transfiguration (Courtauld Galleries, London) and the large Neapolitan figure paintings. This was also the view expressed by Maria Grazia Ciardi Dupré in discussing The Marriage at Cana, The Agony in the Garden (both Museo Regionale, Messina) and The Pentecost (Galleria Regionale, Palermo). Meanwhile Giovanni Previtali and Giulietta Chelazzi Dini proposed Deodato Guinaccia as an alternative attribution for the entire group. Francesca Campagna Cicala also suggested the authorship of Guinaccia, while suggesting as an alternative the name of Marco Pino, another contemporary mannerist, but only for the large altarpiece depicting The Immaculate Conception, which had been rediscovered in storage at the Museo Regionale in Messina and for the Seilern Tranfiguration. These studies gave new credence to nineteenth-century historians such as Carmelo La Farina and Di Marzo, who had not accepted Vasari and Lomazzo’s date of 1543 for Polidoro’s death, theorising that Polidoro may have died between 1535 and 1536, shortly after completing his last documented works, The Adoration of the Shepherds in Santa Maria dell’Altobasso and the ephemeral structures for the triumphal entry of Charles V.

The 1988 monographic exhibition in Naples and the publications of the last twenty years have added greatly to our understanding of Polidoro’s career. Previously unknown paintings have been discovered, and, in some cases, these late finished paintings have been related to autograph preparatory drawings or, alternatively, identified with works attributed to the painter in archival documents and local literary sources between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. All of this has allowed us to examine Polidoro’s final period with greater assuredness and on a more secure footing.

The initials ‘P.CA.C.P.’, which Delogu suggested might plausibly be read as ‘Polidorus Caldara Caravagiensis Pinxit’, appear identically on The Pentecost in the Galleria Regionale in Palermo (the companion to The Healing of a Blind Man and The Deposition in the same gallery), and Christ in the Garden in the Museo Regionale in Messina (in its turn, the companion to three other panels depicting The Marriage at Cana and two scenes from the life of Saint Placido). Moreover, this latter picture may perhaps be identified with a Polidoro painting of the same subject mentioned by Susinno in the house of Andrea di Giovanni in Messina.

There are six panels, which depict Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Francis of Paola, A Franciscan Saint, The Magdalene, The Calling of Saint Matthew, and The Assumption of the Virgin, that probably formed part of the altarpiece mentioned by Susinno in the Capuchin hermitage of Santa Maria degli Angeli in Messina. A seventh panel, depicting Christ and the Apostles, was identified by the present writer as belonging to this series when this latter work passed through the British art market in 1988. This group of works and the three sketches, depicting The Way to Calvary, The Adoration of the Shepherds and The Pentecost (all Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples) have all been attributed to Polidoro since 1783, when they were pulled from the ruins of an earthquake in Messina. After the earthquake the works then passed into the hands of the Marchese di Montagano, and then, in 1802, into the Bourbon collection in Naples. Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries Neapolitan museum guides, as well as the inventories, list the panels as autograph works by Polidoro, as do the old labels on their backs. This group, the so-called Montagano bequest, also contained two additional small-scale figure paintings depicting The Transfiguration and The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist, which were also attributed to Polidoro and described as being del ‘dell’istessa misura’ as the three panels still remaining in the Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte in Naples. They can be easily identified as the paintings, now split between the Courtauld Galleries in London (previously Seilern collection), and a private collection in Bergamo.

Similarly, three paintings now in the Galleria Regionale in Palermo have also been correctly attributed to Polidoro since the early nineteenth century. They were donated to the museum around 1830 by Ferdinando II di Borbone’s tutor, Giuseppe Haus. Another painting attributed to Polidoro in the nineteenth century is a panel depicting Salome (Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples), that at one time was believed to be part of the Franciscan series mentioned above. However, it came from the collection of Onofrio Spasiano, a frigate captain, and was sold by his widow to the Real Museo Borbonico in 1850.

Both Pouncey and Marabottini have noted a compositional relationship between Polidoro’s large Way to Calvary, painted before 1534 for Santissima Annunziata dei Catalani in Messina, and three smaller panels or sketches depicting the same subject in Capodimonte (part of the Montagano bequest), the Vatican Museums and the Pouncey collection (acquired in 2003 by the National Gallery, London). In 1983, Roseline Bacou was able to connect a typically Polidorian red chalk preparatory drawing (Musée du Louvre, Paris) with the Capodimonte Adoration of the Shepherds, which also originated in the Montagano bequest.

More recently several more late works with large-scale figures have been attributed to Polidoro by the present author. These include two extraordinary panels depicting Saint Christopher and David and Goliath (Christ Church Picture Gallery, Oxford), which until 1988 were believed to be by Luca Cambiaso and The Immaculate Conception mentioned above (Museo Regionale, Messina). But it has not been possible to find either preparatory studies or citations in the literary sources and documents for these works. However, the case is somewhat different for a large Crucifixion, perhaps the one mentioned by Gallo the Clarisse church of Santa Maria di Montevergine in Messina, from which four fragments depicting two thieves, the Madonna and the Magdalene still survive in a private collection in Naples. This writer and Achim Gnann have identified a few drawings, which are typical of Polidoro’s hand, as preparatory studies for The Crucifixion. These sheets include two studies for Christ’s arms (British Museum, London) and one for the Virgin and Saint John (Albertina, Vienna) as well as an eighteenth-century copy of the entire composition that accurately records Polidoro’s design (Istituto Nazionale della Grafica, Rome).

The newly discovered painting depicting The Lamentation, currently at the Matthiesen Gallery in London, belongs to this late style and period of Polidoro’s activity (Fig. 2). In the early 1530s Polidoro probably began to make use of this new, rapid and abbreviated tempestuous technique to sketch some studies for the large altarpieces commissioned by churches and confraternities in Messina, which include The Way to Calvary for Santissima Annunziata dei Catalani, The Transfiguration for the church of the Carmine and perhaps The Adoration of the Shepherds for Santa Maria dell’Altobasso. By the late 1530s and early 1540s however, his style took a slightly different path for he came to prefer an austere, brownish palette, whose colours were rapidly sketched in an impassioned and expressive manner, and he used this style for both his small private devotional works as well as for the several large paintings destined for public display above altars.

Although little is known about the origins of the Matthiesen Lamentation, the painting adds to our knowledge of Polidoro’s later work in Messina. It can be placed within the context of some of the works mentioned above and the many paintings that have been in Great Britain since the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century, a period when, especially following the 1783 earthquake in Messina, many local works entered the international art market. It would seem that Polidoro’s bizarre form of stark and radical Michelangelism met with a certain critical success among British collectors in an age dominated by the taste for Blake, Füssli and the sublime. This group comprises the two Oxford panels, the Carmine Transfiguration, the Seilern Incredulity of Saint Thomas (Courtauld Galleries, London), The Crossing of the Red Sea seen by Waagen in the Duke of Sutherland’s collection, an unpublished Adoration of the Shepherds, Christ and the Apostles (Walpole Gallery, London), the Pouncey Way to Calvary (National Gallery, London) and perhaps Saint Albert Carmelite (now Galleria Sabauda, Turin).

The Matthiesen Lamentation too, clearly must have been painted in Messina. Despite its remarkable dimensions, like many of the paintings mentioned above, it is painted on a casually recycled support, in this case a four-plank pine panel that probably once served as a door. Polidoro’s personalised approach to materials is a far cry from the usual, more meticulous workshop practice. He must have developed his scavenging techniques some time after 1536, when he completed The Adoration of the Shepherds for Santa Maria dell’Altobasso, which is painted on a more traditional support. Leaving aside the straightforward technical analogies and the fact that the Lamentation is in substantially better condition than most of the other paintings dating from this period, it is easy to make formal comparisons between it and Polidoro’s other late work. The anguished Madonna seen in profile (Fig. 3) is close to the powerful figures found in Polidoro’s Capodimonte Magdalene as well as the Virgin at the foot of the cross in The Crucifixion from a private Neapolitan collection (Fig. 4). The hooded figures as well as the bearded Nicodemus, who wears a turban (Fig. 5), are similar to the Capodimonte Saint Francis of Paola (Fig. 6), the apostles in The Assumption of the Virgin and the even smaller figures in the signed Pentecost in Palermo (Fig. 7). The Magdalene’s foreshortened face (Fig. 8) is akin to the figures in the two Oxford panels (Fig. 9) and the truly Michelangelesque pose of her muscular body, although in reverse, recalls that of one of the apostles in the Seilern Transfiguration. The large, powerful figure of Christ with its dramatically slackened muscles yet composed body (Fig.10) is analogous to monochromatic figures in the Oxford panels or the depiction of Christ in the Trinity that appears in the upper part of The Immaculate Conception (Museo Regionale, Messina).

Despite the absence of a precise chronological sequence for Polidoro’s late Sicilian activity, using these stylistic comparisons as a guide it is possible to suggest a date of around 1540 for the Matthiesen Lamentation. The painting’s compact, controlled handling and reduced palette are also consistent with this dating. Its brownish tonality recalls the palette of some of Polidoro’s sketches from the 1530s or that of The Crucifixion in a private Neapolitan collection, although the earthen tones of The Lamentation are enlivened by touches of green, pink, blue and orange (Fig. 2). While many of Polidoro’s very last paintings were executed for the Capuchins in Messina shortly before his death, they are characterised by their flowing, liquid brushstrokes and minimal, monochromatic range of the colour (Figs. 6 & 7). Perhaps these late sacred images are best described by the words of the Capuchin Regola and Bernardino Ochino, the great preacher who was later to became Generale dell’Ordine. They were ‘non terse, falerate e fucate… ma nude, pure, semplici, umili e basse, niente di meno divine, infocate e piene d’amore’, uncluttered, and by intention ‘purgatissime da ogni idolatria’.

The compressed and crowded composition of the Matthiesen Lamentation brings to mind the descriptions of another, now lost, Deposition by Polidoro, which was once located in the refectory of the Carmelite convent in Messina. Local guides, from Buonfiglio e Costanzo in the seventeenth century to Grosso Cacopardo in the nineteenth, described the convent as Polidoro’s normal place of habitation and later the site of his grave. Susinno specifically described the Deposition in the refectory as ‘a great composition of Christ on the cross, with the weeping Marys at his feet, larger-than-life size figures, a work of the highest rank, in the style of Raphael’s late manner, but more passionate, enlarged and at the same time distanced from his delicate ways, because he had seen the grandiose works of Michelangelo’.

The Matthiesen Lamentation, however clearly cannot be the painting by Polidoro described in the church of the Carmine in Messina. A careful reading of sources cited above plus the discovery of a preparatory study in the Pushkin Museum in Moscow, which can convincingly be connected with the lost Carmine Deposition, suggest that it was, in fact, a vast fresco depicting many figures in a broad landscape. Nevertheless, the Pushkin sheet, together with numerous other drawings in pen or charcoal and the small panel depicting The Pietà (Galleria Regionale, Palermo), indicate that Polidoro returned to the themes of the Lamentation and Deposition several times during his years in Messina. He studied both themes in various ways, creating a number of paintings, almost all of which are now lost. Among these was a canvas that was used to cover and protect Girolamo Alibrandi’s Purification in the church of the Candelora in Messina. The existence of this canvas is known through a rough etching in Samperi. La Farina mentioned another painting in the collection of the Subba brothers in Messina, which contained ‘un piccolo ovato … [con] la effigie del Polidoro’. Di Marzo recorded yet another Deposition by Polidoro in the monastery of the Padri Cassinesi in Catania. The Matthiesen Lamentation does not appear to match any of these descriptions. It lacks the ‘ovato’, the small portrait probably depicted on a stone, that appeared in the painting formerly in the Subba collection as well as in other paintings by Polidoro dating from the same period. In the Matthiesen painting there is indeed a portrait on the right side of the panel of a patron in prayer, darkly draped and holding a bishop’s crosier (Fig. 11). There is also an illegible coat of arms with the inscription on a stone, but the few decipherable lines appear to exclude any relationship with the work that may have been painted for the Cassinesi. The inscription extends on three lines (Fig. 12). The first and only line in fair condition can be read as ‘ANTONINUS DE’. In the second line, after a loss, it is possible to decipher ‘…INE’ and perhaps ‘C…SB…’. Only the final part of the third line is legible and reads ‘…NSI’.

The Sicilian patron of this work, to whom the coat of arms and inscription certainly refer, must therefore have been called Antonino, a fairly common variant of Antonio in Messina at this time. He was either a bishop or an abbot. However, he was not one of the abbots of the monastery of San Niccolò l’Arena in Catania, which, as we have seen, still owned a painting of the same subject by Polidoro as late as the nineteenth century. Furthermore, there is no mention of anyone by the name of Antonio or Antonino from around 1540, when the picture must have been painted, in the lists of Rocco Pirri’s Sicilia Sacra or indeed during the entire period that Polidoro resided in Sicily, from 1528 to 1543.

The second and third lines of the inscription, which though fragmented and differently composed, must have contained the family name and the patron’s public position. It seems plausible to hypothesis that it could be read ANTONINUS DE ‘LignamINE’ or ‘DE la LignamINE’, ‘Archiepiscopus MessaneNSIs’, that is, the Archbishop of Messina. Antonio La Lignamine was an important figure in early sixteenth-century Sicily. His father, Giovan Filippo, was a close friend of the Franciscan pope Sistus IV della Rovere. The pope had allowed Antonio to attach the Della Rovere surname and coat of arms to his own and facilitated his securing a number of canonicati in Sicily as well as the position of abbot of the Basilian monasteries of Sant’Angelo di Brolo and Santa Maria di Gala, a post that would explain the dark robes he wears in The Lamentation. In November 1513, Antonino was nominated Archbishop of Messina, a position he would hold from 1514 until his death in 1537. Archbishop La Lignamine commissioned from the Gagini and Mazzolo workshops a chapel in the cathedral, which was dedicated to the Madonna del Soccorso, and where he was later buried in a marble sepulchre, whose upper portion contains a relief of his image.

There are some similarities between the expressive, griffin-like image on the tomb and the portrait of the patron in The Lamentation. But if, indeed, the painting does depict Archbishop La Lignamine, then it would have to be an idealised portrait, showing him younger than he would have been in reality. Taking into consideration the chronology of Polidoro’s paintings at the end of the 1530s and perhaps later, it might be possible to suggest that The Lamentation was commissioned by the archbishop in 1537 for his chapel in the cathedral. More probably it was executed immediately after his death by his heirs as a ‘memorial’ to the archbishop’s devotion to the Passion of Christ.

As early as 1534, Polidoro and Archbishop La Lignamine had been in contact about similar issues of a religious nature. According to their contemporary, Colagiacomo d’Alibrando, the archbishop had ‘fatto la grazia’ upon a request of Consul Pietro Ansalone, the patron of the large Way to Calvary in Santissima Annunziata dei Catalani, in order to organise a public procession for the transportation of the painting from Polidoro’s workshop to the church. The event was planned to involve the entire population of Messina and include the participation of all the religious orders, ‘le discipline e i neri fraticelli e bigi e bianchi, il clero…vecchi fanciulli omini e donne’ as if participating in a major passion play, based on the theme of the Imitation of Christ and the redeeming qualities of the Saviour’s blood sacrifice. There would be an emotionally charged re-enactment of the Stations of the Cross that, it was hoped, would fire the imaginations of the faithful. This was to be the culminating spectacle of the celebration. In the end, the collective outburst of emotional energy was so intense that Alibrando feinted during the celebration

127.7 x 193.5 cm
Oil on panel
Historical Period
Mannerism & Cinquecento - 1530-1600
Religious: New Testament
Italian - Lombard
Price band
Sold or not available