Florence 1474 – 1515
Cain killing Abel
[Caino uccide Abele] c.1510-15
oil on wood panel
56.2 (h) x 68.2 (w) cm Accademia Carrara, Bergamo
Bequest of Giovanni Morelli 1891
The classic subject of the panel, of brotherly rivalry taken to extremes, is taken from the Old Testament (Genesis 4:1–12). The sons of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel had made offerings to God. Because God favoured Abel’s offering, Cain was provoked to attack his brother. At the front of the painting, a dark complexioned Cain is about to kill the fair Abel with a brutal club. To the right, God appears from the heavens, questions Cain and banishes him, ordering that the earth should no longer respond to him. The image of a peasant struggling to move his stubborn oxen may allude to Cain’s fate. The funeral of Abel is taking place in the middle ground where his body is carried to a sepulchre cut into the hillside. The way in which the funeral is represented suggests a parallel with the entombment of Christ, a typological comparison between the Old and New Testaments. The two crows are omens of conflict and death: one squawks at Cain as if to protest his action; the other delves into his basket of provisions.
It is only in recent years that this panel has been attributed to Albertinelli: when Giovanni Morelli bought it for his cousin, Giovanni Melli, in 1871 he believed it to be a work by Francesco Bacchiacca. In fact the Bergamo panel belongs to a group by Albertinelli, a Genesis cycle of three paintings of the same style and dimensions. One, in the Courtauld Gallery, London, represents episodes of the Creation story. Another panel, depicting the Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise, is in the Strossmayer Gallery, Zagreb. Morelli advised the founder of the gallery, Bishop Josip Juraj Strossmayer, on this acquisition seemingly without realising that it belonged to the same cycle as his own painting. It has been suggested that the panels had their origin in the cycle of ‘tre storiette’ [three little stories] that Giorgio Vasari describes as by Albertinelli in the house of the banker Giovan Maria Benintendi, whose house in Florence also contained works by Pontormo, Franciabigio, Bacchiacca and other Florentine Mannerist artists, often in narrative cycles.
A skilled restoration and repainting in the upper left of the Bergamo panel is the outcome of an early act of vandalism in which a section of the composition was cut out for sale. The date of the restoration is not known, but presumably it was before Morelli made the acquisition. He writes of attempting to remove some greasy discolouring from the surface, and that in the hands of his restorer, Luigi Cavenaghi, the work would become ‘a pearl’. If the cut-out section, now in the Fogg Museum, Havard, were to be placed alongside the Bergamo panel, the narrative cycle of Cain and Abel would be complete. Titled The sacrifice and Cain and Abel, it shows the brothers making their offerings to God, with a ray from heaven lighting Abel’s sacrifice while Cain’s is reduced to black smoke.
 Ludovico Borgo, ‘Mariotto Albertinelli’s smaller paintings after 1512’, Burlington Magazine, vol. 116, 1974, pp. 245–50; Federico Zeri and Francesco Rossi, La raccolta Morelli nell’Accademia Carrara, Bergamo: Amilcare Pizzi, 1986, pp. 114–17.
 Francesco Bacchiacca (1494–1557). See Morelli’s letter to his cousin, in Jaynie Anderson, Collecting, connoisseurship and the art market in Risorgimento Italy. Giovanni Morelli’s letters to Giovanni Melli and Pietro Zavaritt (1866–1872), Venice: Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti, 1999, pp. 116–17.
 Anderson, p. 43.
 Giorgio Vasari, Le vite de più eccellenti pittori, scultore, e architetti, Florence: Torrentino, 1550, p. 109.
 Anderson, pp. 116–19.
 See Jaynie Anderson, ‘Love and devotion in daily life in Renaissance Italy’, supra, p. 62, illus.