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Marcantonio Bassetti (1586-1630)

Oil on slate
37.2 x 28.6 cm

A rare 17th century painting on slate by Baroque artist Marcantonio Bassetti, The dead Christ supported by the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene, painted circa 1616, has been acquired with the support of the Art Fund, the MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund, and the Gow Fund. Painting on slate was a Veronese speciality and the gleaming dark background was especially well suited to dramatically-lit nocturnal scenes such as this, where the black of the slate provides the dark backdrop to the figures. It proved popular with rich patrons as the precious support added lustre to the paintings. Unfortunately slate is also fragile and paintings on it often survive in a broken state. This example has remained in very good condition showing to the full how effective this technique can be.

Marcantonio Bassetti was amongst a small group of artists who followed the example of Sebastiano del Piombo in sometimes painting on slate. After an initial training with Felice Brusasorci in Verona, Bassetti went to Venice where he was particularly influenced by Tintoretto, Veronese and Jacopo Bassano. He is recorded in Rome in 1616, but may have travelled there with his Veronese compatriots, Alessandro Turchi and Pasquale Ottino in 1614. In Rome Bassetti was influenced by the paintings of Caravaggio and Orazio Borgianni. The iconography in the painting is unusual. The awkward position of Christ’s body, almost falling into the Virgin’s lap, has a dynamic quality that heightens the tension in a subject that is usually static. The winged angel about to wipe away the blood from Christ’s wound is an unusual feature that helps balance the composition as does the haunting, almost ghostly, figure of the Magdalene.

Acquisition date: 2011

Object number: PD.11-2011