This masterpiece by the Flemish artist Antoon van Dyck (Antwerp 1599 – London 1641) opens a new series that the Museum is devoting to the great names of European painting.
Italian culture has evolved spectacularly and persistently over the centuries, throughout the whole country, but it has often run the risk of turning in on itself for inspiration. Most Italian museums – and the Carrara is no exception – tend not to offer a comprehensive view of international painting, and the reasons for this are not hard to imagine, considering the wealth of the country’s own artistic heritage. On the other hand, countless works lead along fascinating avenues of research, which means that an understanding of the remarkable contribution made by European masters makes for essential, very interesting comparisons. Opening with van Dyck,
a highly talented artist who vied with Rubens for supremacy on the art scene and spent a long time in Italy, where he was fatally attracted to its masters – and Titian in particular – is a very effective way of introducing the best in European painting.
The Lamentation, on display here, is a wonderful masterpiece by Antoon van Dyck, with an ancient provenance dating back to the family of Airoldi di Cruillas of Palermo. As luck would have it, it reappeared in Rome after the Second World War and recently entered the private collection that has granted it to us on loan. This is a work that has long been sought after as an original prototype of exceptional quality. It led to a series of variants and replicas, both autograph and by the artist’s studio, including one of great interest that came to the Accademia Carrara with the bequest of Carlo Ceresa in 1924. Without any certain information about the original patron, or about its possible creation during the painter’s travels in Italy – from 1621 to 1627 – it is normally dated to somewhat later, during the second stay in Antwerp, in 1628 – 1632. Van Dyck depicted this theme a number of times during his career, right from his early years, in paintings of intense, dramatic tension. In 1628, however, he returned to the subject with a large altarpiece that was commissioned from him for the main altar of the church of the Béguinage in Antwerp (now in the Musée Royal des Beaux-Arts in the same city). In this painting we find figurative forms of the very highest level, which had been further refined by the artist’s experiences during his long journey in Italy, revealing echoes of Titian as well as of the great painting of Bologna at the time, with the Carracci and Guido Reni. Van Dyck later made a new variant of this subject in the panel that he signed and dated on the back in 1634 (now in the Alte Pinakothek, Munich), which accentuates the expressiveness of the faces and of the gestures of desperation. Here the movements are more explicit and he uses a technique of broader, vibrant and extended brushstrokes to highlight the dynamism of the figures. The painting on show here represents the watershed point between these two versions, particularly as regards the idea of bringing the sculptural figure of Christ into the foreground and extending it across the entire length of the unusual horizontal format of the canvas. He creates a hemi-circle around the weeping figures, in which Mary Magdalene, the Virgin Mary, a cherub and the other two angels converge in a pained, almost protective attraction to the martyred body. The rapid, whirlwind painting is sublime, at times finished to perfection, while at others almost sketchy, intensifying the desperate swirl of emotions.
Piazza Giacomo Carrara, 82 – Bergamo
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