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The Pieta
17th Century
The Pieta
[La Pietà]
Oil on canvas
55 x 77 cm  [HxW]
Galleria Spada, Roma

The painting was originally owned by Cardinal Bernardino Spada (1594–1661), who must have purchased it in about 1642 when a payment was registered for “ la doratura di un ornamento a un quadretto del Borgiani ” (“the gilding of an ornament for a painting by Borgianni”; Cannatà and Vicini [1992], pp. 31 and 74).

In the position of the Christ and the pained expression of the onlookers, the Spada painting does indeed have clear similarities with the work in the sacristy of San Salvatore in Lauro. And yet unlike the luministic rendering of the warm, golden tones of the fresco, the painting contains sudden chiaroscuro contrasts with violet-coloured nuances which highlight the naturalistic sense of the group and accentuate the dramatic impact of the painful moment.

The composition of the Spada Pietà is repeated in a highly original painting in the cathedral of Segovia which, according to Wethey (1964), might be a very damaged original dating back to Borgianni’s period in Spain. Copies of the work include three small replicas — one in Naples, in the sacristy of San Domenico Maggiore, and another two in Spain, in the museum in Valencia and in the collection of the Duke of Alba in Epila, near Saragoza. The same subject, in a painting whose whereabouts are currently unknown, appeared in the Duke of Buckingham’s collection in 1635 in York House and in the inventories of the Royal Palace in Madrid.

Maria Lucrezia Vicini

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