Cristo alla colonna

Alessandro Turchi (Known as Orbetto)

VERONA 1578 – ROMA 1649

Material: Oil on copper

Size: 29 x 20 cm

Review by Prof. Sandro Bellesi

Stylistically amazing and greatly preserved, the painting is such a cooper masterwork showing a sacred scene inside a spectacular architectural recess. Without any literary or iconographic references, Saint Peter praying in front of Jesus tied to a column is depicted. 

According to some evangelical and hagiografic sources, we know Saint Peter – as  Apostles’ prince as well as Catholic Church first pontiff – didn’t see Jesus anymore as he had betrayed him three times, with the result Jesus was imprisoned. Although he had predicted it, Peter’s betrayal induced himself to regret doing that and he died after worshipping God all his life long.

However, after he left Rome as he had taken advice from the Apostles to get his life saved, Peter, according to Atti di Pietro and Legenda Aurea sources, was tested by God again.

When he was walking down via Appia, an ancient Roman road, Peter is said to have seen Jesus holding the cross. As he asked him where he was going – “Quo vadis, Domine?” – Jesus answered he was going back to Rome to be crucified again. Only then, Peter realised he would be martyrized too.

The painted scene, therefore, turns out to be an interpretation of the Scriptures resulting from a supposed connection between Peter and the customer’s name.

As a part of a Verona collection, it is very likely to be ascribed to Alessandro Turchi, known as Orbetto. According to its pictorial details, which we can appreciate in other paintings realised by him, we confirm this hypothesis, although it has been unreleased as yet.

Alessandro Turchi was born in Verona in 1578, but he was better known as “Orbetto” because of his blind father. Due to his early interest in figurative arts, he started painting at Felice Brusaorci’s workshop where he knew Pasquale Ottino (1578-1630). In 1605 they finished some artworks their master hadn’t completed because of his death.

As he got his studies done, Orbetto lived in Venice for a while and, when he came back to Verona, he successed in painting on his own. At the beginning, he realised some ecclesiastical artworks by joining late Mannerist Venetian visual languages with early seventeenth century Venice painting techniques.

Between 1616 and 1621 Alessandro went to Rome twice with Marcantonio Bassetti (1586-1630). There, he realised some works and he approached classicist painting, Caravaggio’s artworks and all the pictures Carlo Saraceni, one of the important Venetian artists at that time, had carried out. He came back to Verona just for a while, as he settled in Rome in 1620 approximately. It’s therefore likely he had lived in the Marches for a short time, since some of his works are today kept at San Luca Academy whose management he’s said to be involved in.

Alessandro’s late artistic production, although its undisputed qualities and descriptive originalities, consists of small and medium sized artworks depicting some secular themes mainly. Because of them, he got such a success in Veneto, France and Rome where, in 1649, he died (for further informations about the artist’s life, please see: D. Scaglietti Kalescian, Alessandro Turchi detto l’Orbetto: 1578-1649, Milano, 1999).

As an example of Orbetto’s early artistic repertoire, Cristo alla colonna was realized in the earliest seventeenth century. Its refined and eclectic style recalls Veronese late Mannerist  painting as well as late sixteenth century Venetian artists. By choosing the copper to realise his picture on, Orbetto is said to refer to the Counter reformation main painters, as Felice Brusasorci, Sante Creara and Jacopo Ligozzi mainly. The way the Christ was depicted, as well as its anatomic details, recalls some characters Jacopo Palma il Giovane realised for his Cristo alla colonna – today at Musée des Beaux Arts in Lyons – and Compianto sul Cristo morto paintings at Christ Church Gallery in Oxford (for further informations please see: S. Mason Rinaldi, Palma il Giovane. L’opera completa, Milano, 1984, figg. 135 e 738).

On the one side, Orbetto’s Cristo alla colonna can be compared with Pasquale Ottino and Marcantonio Bassetti’s earliest artworks. On the other, it recalls Immacolata Concezione in gloria at Sant’Orsola church in Mantova because of the similarities between their main characters and their backgrounds. Moreover, the choice of the copper allows us to compare Orbetto’s paintings to Madonna con Gesù Bambino in gloria con angeli and Assunta con angeli e santi altarpieces. The first is today kept at Castelvecchio Museum and the other at Sant’Anastasia church, Verona (for further informations, please see D. Scaglietti Kalescian, op. cit., pp. 23, 77 e 83).

However, the way Orbetto realised Christ’s character changed when he got older. Flagellazione di Cristo, one of his late paintings he’s said to have realised during his first Roman stay and today kept at Palatine Gallery in Florence, can prove it (for further informations please see Casciu’s essay in Pietre colorate. Capricci del XVII secolo dalle collezioni Medicee, exposition catalogue by M. Chiarini e C. Acidini Luchinat, San Severino Marche/Macerata, Cinisello Balsamo/Milano, 2000, pp. 92-93).

On the back of the painting we can appreciate a scene showing a sight of Rome and some soldiers. An upside down sign, “PAPIA”, lies beneath it.

The artwork is under the authority of the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage.

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