The Pietà or lamentation over the dead Christ is not a scene from the Gospels. Rather, it was a medieval invention that translated the pathos of the Passion into a picture, an image to elicit an emotional response from the worshipper.
The Virgin, Saint John the Evangelist, and Mary Magdalene have assembled at Christ's tomb and hold up his gray, lifeless body against the marble sarcophagus. Behind them is the dark mouth of the rock cut tomb, and beyond it opens a verdant river landscape. Moretto has frozen the mourners in their awkward poses, their strain fueling the anguished pitch of the image. By contrast, the disposition of Christ's body is almost balletic. It stands out pale against the deep colors of the mourners' robes. Moretto's palette is rich but acerbic, darkening to iron-gray in the shadows.
Although Moretto had absorbed the styles of the Venetians, especially their brilliant experiments with color and light, this intensely emotional Pietà, which must have been intended as an altarpiece, could only have been created in the sincere religious atmosphere of a provincial site like Brescia, so distant in spirit from the secular, cosmopolitan city of Venice.
Marks and Labels
George Francis Wyndham, 4th Earl of Egremont [d. 1845], Orchard Wyndham, Somerset, England; life interest inherited by his widow, Jane Roberts Wyndham, Countess of Egremont [d. 1876], Orchard Wyndham; by inheritance to William Wyndham [d. 1914], Orchard Wyndham; (Wyndham [Egremont] sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 26 November 1892); Sir Francis Cook, 1st Bt. [1817-1901], Doughty House, Richmond, Surrey; by inheritance to his son, Sir Frederick Lucas Cook, 2nd Bt. [1844-1920], Doughty House; by inheritance to his son, Sir Herbert Frederick Cook, 3rd Bt. [1868-1939], Doughty House; by inheritance to his son, Sir Francis Ferdinand Maurice Cook, 4th Bt. [1907-1978], Doughty House, and Cothay Manor, Somerset; (Francis A. Drey, London); sold February 1947 to the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, New York; gift 1952 to NGA.
- National Loan Exhibition, Grafton Galleries, London, 1909-1910, no. 80, repro.
- Brockwell, Maurice W. Abridged Catalogye of the Pictures at Doughty House, Richmond, Surrey, in the Collection of Sir Herbert Cook. London, 1932: 184.
- Einstein, Lewis. Looking at Italian Pictures in the National Gallery of Art. Washington, 1951: 96-97, repro.
- Paintings and Sculpture from the Kress Collection Acquired by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation 1945-1951. Introduction by John Walker, text by William E. Suida. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1951: 112, no. 46, repro.
- Frankfurter, Alfred M. "Interpreting Masterpieces: Twenty-four Paintings from the Kress Collection." Art News Annual 16 (1952): 97, repro. 94
- Paintings and Sculpture from the Samuel H. Kress Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1959: 197, repro.
- Seymour 1961 (Kress), 102, repro. pl. 94, color repro. pl. 95
- Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds., Treasures from the National Gallery of Art, New York, 1962: 30, color repro.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1963 (reprinted 1964 in French, German, and Spanish): 152, repro.
- Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 94.
- Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds. A Pageant of Painting from the National Gallery of Art. 2 vols. New York, 1966: 1:186, color repro.
- European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1968: 83, repro.
- Shapley, Fern Rusk. Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: Italian Schools, XV-XVI Century. London, 1968: 91-92, fig. 220.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 246, repro.
- Shapley, Fern Rusk. Catalogue of the Italian Paintings. 2 vols. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1979: I:336-337, II:pl. 245
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 223, no. 276, color repro.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 285, repro.
- National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 96, repro.
- Danziger, Elon. "The Cook Collection: Its Founder and Its Inheritors." The Burlington Magazine 146, no. 1216 (July 2004): 451.
- Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 92, no. 67, color repro.