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.
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.
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- Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 92, no. 67, color repro.