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Robert Echols, “Anonymous Artist, Jacopo Tintoretto, Lambert Sustris/Christ at the Sea of Galilee/c. 1570s,” Italian Paintings of the Sixteenth Century, NGA Online Editions, (accessed July 20, 2024).

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The resurrected Christ is depicted backlit by the rising sun on the shore of Lake Galilee as he appears to seven of his believers in a boat. As told in John 21:1–13, they had been fishing all night without success. Christ told them to cast their nets to the right side of the boat, where the catch would be plentiful. When Peter saw Christ, he jumped into the water to swim to shore. Here, as daylight begins to brighten the waves and sky, Peter extends his leg from the boat, about to jump.

Although the attribution cannot be confirmed with certainty, this work was probably created by the Amsterdam-born painter Lambert Sustris. As a young man, he moved to Venice and is believed to have worked in the studios of both Jacopo Tintoretto (Venetian, 1518 or 1519 - 1594) and Titian (Venetian, 1488/1490 - 1576), painting landscapes. Christ at the Sea of Galilee was likely produced during Sustris’s later career in Venice, which has remained largely unexplored. The attribution of the Gallery’s picture is based upon strong similarities in works by Sustris to the figure of Christ, the small figures of the apostles, and the landscape. Two unfinished paintings revealed to lie beneath its surface also appear consistent with the artist’s work.

This painting has previously been attributed to Tintoretto based on stylistic elements such as the dramatic treatment of light and the dry white brushwork that highlights the rolling waves. However, the painting’s lack of impasto—thick buildup of paint on the surface—and differences in figural types and coloring cast uncertainty on the attribution to Tintoretto and point to Sustris as its author.


The high quality of Christ at the Sea of Galilee has always been recognized. Seascapes are rare in Venetian painting, and here the turbulent waters, with their flickering highlights, as well as the blustering clouds and the play of light on the distant shore, are rendered with a painterly brio that has in retrospect evoked the names of Théodore Géricault and Eugène Delacroix.[1] The disjunction between the vigor of the landscape and the sketchy and attenuated figure of Christ, apparently unfinished in some passages, contributes to a mystical, almost hallucinatory effect that has been compared to some of Jacopo Tintoretto’s great paintings at the Scuola Grande di San Rocco.[2] Most scholars have considered the picture to be an autograph work by Tintoretto, and many have ranked it among his masterpieces. Nevertheless, the painting is so fundamentally different from Tintoretto’s art that it can be removed from his autograph oeuvre without hesitation.

The picture has never been located convincingly in Tintoretto’s oeuvre: datings have ranged from August L. Mayer’s 1546/1555, through Rodolfo Pallucchini and Paola Rossi’s 1558/1562 and Terisio Pignatti’s later 1570s, to Tintoretto’s last years, 1591/1594, as favored by Lionello Venturi, Erich von der Bercken, and Pierluigi De Vecchi.[3] Nor has the attribution gone unquestioned.

In 1948, Hans Tietze gave the picture to El Greco, a conclusion reached by Manolis Chatzidakis in 1950 as well.[4] In a lengthy written statement in NGA curatorial files, Tietze and Erika Tietze-Conrat argued convincingly that the essential invention, the figure types, the technique, and the coloring of the picture are alien to Tintoretto at every stage of his career. As the Tietzes noted, Tintoretto’s art is always based primarily on the human figure and conveys a fundamental sense of the underlying structure and mechanics of the body, which is absent here.[5] Moreover, in Tintoretto’s paintings, to quote the Tietzes, water is never “in itself an independent means of expression. . . . It is simply the milieu in which some event takes place. In the Washington picture, the sea is not a detail, but the subject of the painting.”[6] The painting’s unusually thin pictorial technique, employing virtually no impasto, is also uncharacteristic of Tintoretto.[7] On the other hand, while the Tietzes’ attribution to El Greco accords with the picture’s mannerist elements and high quality, the technique, in particular the lack of impasto, is equally inconsistent with that of the Cretan painter.[8]

As the present writer has argued elsewhere, the best explanation for the picture’s peculiar genius lies in an attribution to the Amsterdam-born painter Lambert Sustris during his later career in Venice, a period which has remained mysterious and largely unexplored.[9] Born around 1515, Sustris is recorded in Rome in 1536, and within a year or two he had settled in Venice. His paintings there show him to be extremely versatile, moving comfortably back and forth between the conventions of central Italian mannerism, Titian (in whose studio he is reported to have worked), and northern literalism.[10] In the 1540s he was active as a painter of fresco cycles decorating palaces and villas on the Venetian terraferma, and he seems to have played a role in developing the characteristic domestic decoration style there, especially its landscape components, which combine the Roman antiquarian landscapes of Polidoro da Caravaggio with elements of northern panorama and Venetian pastoral lyricism [fig. 1].[11] He is also recorded by early sources as one of the northern artists who worked in Tintoretto’s studio, as well as Titian’s, painting landscapes.[12] Giorgio Vasari’s 1568 Lives implies that Lambert was still alive but no longer in Venice, and his career is not usually discussed beyond this point.[13] However, as first noted by Arthur Peltzer, there are indications that he continued to work in Venice, at least occasionally, for more than three decades and received payments there under the name of “Alberto d’Ollanda” for three official portraits in 1591 that Tintoretto was unable to complete. (Sustris signed paintings as Alberto earlier in his career, and he is identified by the name in at least two documents.)[14] Many direct links between paintings previously attributed to Tintoretto and works by Lambert suggest that during this later phase of his career, Sustris had an association of some kind with Tintoretto. Although the structure of Tintoretto’s studio remains unclear, it seems likely that he had some associates who worked there relatively independently. Northern artists particularly seemed to have gravitated to the Tintoretto bottega.[15] Lambert Sustris may well have been one of them.

The attribution of the Gallery’s painting to Lambert Sustris is based upon strong similarities in works by Lambert to the figure of Christ, the small figures of the apostles, and the landscape. The attenuated figure of Christ, with his rectangular-shaped head, follows the mannerist conventions that Sustris frequently used in his early paintings. Because of the sketchiness of the figure, especially close connections can be found in Lambert’s drawings. For example, in a drawing depicting a Sacrifice to Priapus (Albertina, Vienna) [fig. 2], a female nude seen from the rear is articulated in exactly the same manner as the figure of Christ, especially in the definition of the back, the shoulders, the calves, and the feet, as well as the distinctive mannerist facial profile.[16] Christ’s exaggeratedly extended finger reflects a morphological trait that appears in the central figure in armor in the Sacrifice to Priapus and numerous other drawings and paintings (see fig. 1) by Sustris.[17] The little figures of the apostles in the boat are analogous to those who populate Lambert’s frescoed landscapes, and even closer to figures in his drawings, where the sketchily rendered faces frequently show the same hollow-eyed, skull-like appearance and summary treatment of the limbs. They are particularly close to a compositional sketch for a Roman triumph (Gabinetto dei Disegni, Uffizi, Florence) [fig. 3].[18]

The landscape in the Gallery’s picture shows striking similarities to Lambert’s Paduan frescoes (for example, one at the Villa Godi at Lonedo, Lugo di Vicenza; see fig. 1), especially in the treatment of the receding shoreline, the swaths of yellow and green defining the hills in the middle distance, the tree stump, the puffy clouds, and even the boat itself.[19] In addition, the panoramic landscape lying beneath the current painting, though visible only through x-radiography and infrared reflectography at 1.5 to 1.8 microns [fig. 4],[20] can also be linked to Lambert’s paintings. As in his Paduan frescoes and other works, the architecture includes both classicizing and contemporary buildings. Among them are several that replicate structures in Lambert’s paintings—for example, a triple-arched bridge with exact counterparts in his fresco cycles.[21] While it is not possible to make judgments about attribution based on the incomplete image of the unfinished portrait painted over the panoramic landscape, what can be seen of the portrait through infrared reflectography is generally consistent with both Lambert’s earlier document portraits and the 1591 paintings by “Alberto d’Ollanda,” while the x-radiographs reveal that it lacks the bold brushwork that Tintoretto typically used to sketch in the structural forms of the head when he began his portraits.[22]

Tintoretto specialists have remained mostly silent about the attribution of the Christ at the Sea of Galilee since it has been linked to Sustris.[23] While the attribution to Sustris cannot be confirmed with certainty, the picture is surely the work of a painter who fits Sustris’s profile: one who was active in Venice in the second half of the cinquecento; probably having some association with Tintoretto and certainly aware of his oeuvre and types; familiar with the iconography of northern painting; and painting in a mode that combines mannerist figure types with the landscape style characteristic of Venetian villa decorations of the 1540s.

Christ’s pose is loosely related to several other paintings from the Tintoretto studio, including two versions of the Raising of Lazarus, datable to 1573 (private collection) and 1576 (Katharinenkirche, Lübeck).[24] The Gallery’s painting can be tentatively dated to around the 1570s on the theory that there must be some relationship among the pictures.

The painting represents one of Christ’s several earthly manifestations following the Resurrection, his appearance on the shore of Lake Galilee on the occasion traditionally known as the second “miraculous draught of fishes.” As recounted in John 21:1–13, seven apostles had fished all night in a boat on Lake Galilee, without success. At dawn, Christ appeared at the shore and told them to cast their nets to the right side of the boat, where the catch would be plentiful. When Peter recognized Christ, he cast himself into the water to swim to the shore. The subject is more frequent in northern than in Italian painting, and the composition of the Washington painting, with its panoramic landscape, is characteristically northern in type.[25] The Gallery’s picture has sometimes been seen as representing Christ walking on the water during a storm, and Peter about to attempt to follow his example, as told in Matthew 14:22–29.[26] Nevertheless, the iconography of the painting as a whole makes it clear that the subject is indeed the occasion described in John 21: Christ is standing on the shore, as evidenced by the rocks and vegetation at his feet; there are seven apostles on the boat (not twelve as in the scene of Christ walking on the water); the apostles are casting the net off the right side of the boat; and the sky suggests that the event takes place at sunrise.

In 16th-century Venice, biblical narrative pictures of this size and format were often hung in the large central halls (portego or sala) of private palaces.[27]

Robert Echols

March 21, 2019


Count Joseph Gallotti.[1] (Durlacher Brothers, New York).[2] Arthur Sachs [1880-1975], New York, by 1925;[3] sold March 1943 through (Jacques Seligmann & Co., New York) and (Moses & Singer, New York) to the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, New York;[4] gift 1952 to NGA.

Exhibition History

Loan to display with permanent collection, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1927.
Loan to display with permanent collection, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1932-1933.
A Century of Progress Exhibition of Paintings and Sculpture, Art Institute of Chicago, 1933, no. 135, repro., as Christ on the Lake of Galilee.
Landscape Paintings, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1934, no. 5, as Christ Walking on the Water.
Loan to display with permanent collection, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1935-1938.
Exhibition of Venetian Painting From the Fifteenth Century through the Eighteenth Century, California Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco, June-July 1938, no. 66, repro., as Christ on the Sea at Galilee.
Religious Art, an exhibition of fourteenth, fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth-century paintings; sculpture, illuminated manuscripts, metalwork, rosaries, textiles, stained glass and prints, Baltimore Museum of Art, 1938-1939, no. 35, repro.
Venetian Paintings of the 15th & 16th Centuries, M. Knoedler and Company, New York, April 1938, no. 16, repro., as Christ on the Sea of Galilee.
A Loan Exhibition of Paintings by Jacopo Robusti, il Tintoretto, 1519-1594, Durlacher Brothers, New York, February-March 1939, no. 5, as Christ on the Sea of Galilee.
Masterpieces of Art. European Paintings and Sculptures from 1300-1800, New York World's Fair, May-October 1939, no. 377, repro.
Loan to display with permanent collection, Society of Liberal Arts, Joslyn Memorial (now Joslyn Art Museum), Omaha, 1942-1943.
Recent Additions to the Kress Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1946, no. 825.
The Golden Century of Venetian Painting, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1979-1980, no. 36, repro.
Loan to display with permanent collection, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Caen, 1988-1989.

Technical Summary

The support is formed of four irregularly sized pieces of similar, medium-weight, twill canvas that have been sewn together. A large piece in the center has been augmented with a thin strip to the right extending the entire height of the painting, ranging from 8.25 centimeters in width at the bottom to 10.5 centimeters at the top; a strip to the left of 37–37.5 centimeters in width extending the entire height of the primary fabric; and a narrow strip along the bottom spanning the left addition and the primary fabric, but ending before the addition on the right, which ranges from 2 centimeters in height on the left to 6.25 centimeters in height on the right. The entire composite has been lined to two pieces of plain-weave fabric.

All four pieces of canvas were prepared with a gesso ground followed by a layer of glue.[1] The paint was applied directly on this gesso and glue priming, with no imprimatura layer, though one cross section showed a layer consisting of a mixture of materials observed in paintings from the Tintoretto studio and identified as “palette scraping.”[2] The forms were outlined first in dry white paint. The paint films are generally thin and the structure is less complex than is usually found in Venetian paintings. Occasionally the outline of the figure was reemphasized after the form was painted. Christ’s red robe was painted over the white crest of a wave. Christ’s foot appears to be unfinished. The following pigments have been identified: azurite, smalt, red lake, vermilion, red lead, lead tin yellow, orpiment, green earth, iron earths, umber, lead white, and lamp black (possible, in sketch for underlying portrait, see below).[3] Beneath the current composition are two other unfinished paintings painted perpendicular to the current composition. The first is a landscape, which does not appear to have progressed past the initial painted sketch. On top of this is a portrait of a man, of which the initial sketch can be seen clearly with infrared reflectography at 1.5 to 1.8 microns [fig. 1].[4] The flesh tones and highlights appear white in the x-radiographs.

The paint is abraded in many places, and discrete losses to paint and ground are scattered throughout, particularly along the seam joins and edges of the painting. The painting was relined, cleaned, and restored by Stephen Pichetto in 1944. In 1993–1995, it was treated again to remove or reduce discolored varnish and extensive retouching and to inpaint the abrasion.

Robert Echols and Joanna Dunn based on the examination report by Paula De Cristofaro and the treatment report by Susanna Griswold

March 21, 2019


Venturi, Adolfo. Storia dell’arte italiana. 11 vols. Milan, 1901-1940: 9, part 4(1929):332, repro.
Borenius, Tancred. “A Seascape by Tintoretto.” Apollo 2 (July–December 1925): 249.
Venturi, Lionello. Pitture italiane in America. Milan, 1931: no. 411.
Berenson, Bernard. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: A List of the Principal Artists and Their Works with an Index of Places. Oxford, 1932: 562, 678, as Tintoretto.
Venturi, Lionello. Italian Paintings in America. Translated by Countess Vanden Heuvel and Charles Marriott. 3 vols. New York and Milan, 1933: 3:no. 555, as Tintoretto.
Borenius, Tancred. "An Exhibition of Venetian Painting." The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs 74 (1939): 138, as Tintoretto.
Bercken, Erich von der. Die Gemälde des Jacopo Tintoretto. Munich, 1942: 88, 118, fig. 216, as Tintoretto.
Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds. Masterpieces of Painting from the National Gallery of Art. New York, 1944: 74, color repro., as Christ Walking on the Sea.
Frankfurter, Alfred M. The Kress Collection in the National Gallery. New York, 1944: 55, repro., as Christ Walking on the Sea.
Paintings and Sculpture from the Kress Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1945 (reprinted 1947, 1949): 130, repro.
Tietze, Hans. Tintoretto: The Paintings and Drawings. New York, 1948: 381, as El Greco.
Chatzidakis, Manolis. “O Domenikos Theotokopoulos kai e kretiké zographiké.” Kretika Chronika 4 (1950): 371–440, as El Greco.
Einstein, Lewis. Looking at Italian Pictures in the National Gallery of Art. Washington, 1951: 98-99, repro.
Tietze, Hans. Treasures of the Great National Galleries. New York, 1954: 15, 125, pl. 205 (“ascribed to Tintoretto, but may also be considered as a possible El Greco”).
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1956: 30, color repro.
Berenson, Bernard. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance. Venetian School. 2 vols. London, 1957: 1:183, pl. 71, as Tintoretto.
Shapley, Fern Rusk. Comparisons in Art: A Companion to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. London, 1957 (reprinted 1959): pl. 37.
Paintings and Sculpture from the Samuel H. Kress Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1959: 203, repro.
Shapley, Fern Rusk. Later Italian Painting in the National Gallery of Art. Washington, D.C., 1960 (Booklet Number Six in Ten Schools of Painting in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.): 32, color repro.
The National Gallery of Art and Its Collections. Foreword by Perry B. Cott and notes by Otto Stelzer. National Gallery of Art, Washington (undated, 1960s): 25.
Seligman, Germain. Merchants of Art: 1880-1960, Eighty Years of Professional Collecting. New York, 1961: repro. pl. 87.
Wethey, Harold E. El Greco and His School. 2 vols. Princeton, 1962: 1:90, n. 113.
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1963 (reprinted 1964 in French, German, and Spanish): 158, repro.
Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 128.
Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds. A Pageant of Painting from the National Gallery of Art. 2 vols. New York, 1966: 1:194, color repro.
Schiller, Gertrud. Ikonographie der christlichen Kunst. 6 vols. Gütersloh, 1966-1990: 3:117.
Gandolfo, Giampaolo et al. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Great Museums of the World. New York, 1968: 12, 50-51, color repro.
National Gallery of Art. European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. Washington, 1968: 115, repro.
De Vecchi, Pierluigi. L’opera completa del Tintoretto. Milan, 1970: 133, no. 290, pl. 63, as Tintoretto.
Shapley, Fern Rusk. Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: Italian Schools, XVI-XVIII Century. London, 1973: 52-53, fig. 92, as Tintoretto.
European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 340, repro.
Shapley, Fern Rusk. Catalogue of the Italian Paintings. 2 vols. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1979: 1:465-467; 2:pl. 332, 332A.
Sutton, Denys. “Venetian Painting of the Golden Age.” Apollo 110 (1979): 386, as Tintoretto.
Pallucchini, Rodolfo, and Paola Rossi. Tintoretto: le opere sacre e profane. 2 vols. Venice, 1982: 1:178-179, no. 224; 2:fig. 292, as by Tintoretto.
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 228, no. 287, color repro.
European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 392, repro.
National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 104, repro.
Dal Pozzolo, Enrico Maria. “Rilevanze gestuali nell'opera del pittore: problemi di metodo e legittimità interpretative.” In Jacopo Tintoretto nel quarto centenario della morte: atti del convegno internationale di studi. Edited by Paola Rossi and Lionello Puppi. Padua, 1996: 149, fig. 331, as Tintoretto.
Echols, Robert. "Tintoretto, Christ at the Sea of Galilee, and the Unknown Later Career of Lambert Sustris," Venezia Cinquecento VI, no. 12 (1996): 93-149.
Herrmann Fiore, Kristina. Paolo Veronese: la predica di Sant'Antonio ai Pesci; spunti di riflessione per una rilettura del dipinto restaurato. Rome, 2001: 36, fig. 35, as attributed to Tintoretto or Friedrich Sustris.
Echols, Robert, and Frederick Ilchman. “Toward a New Tintoretto Catalogue, with a Checklist of Revised Attributions and a New Chronology.” In Jacopo Tintoretto: Actas del congreso internacional/Proceedings of the International Symposium, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, February 26-27, 2007. Madrid, 2009: 149, no. C90, as Lambert Sustris.
Cassegrain, Guillaume. Tintoret. Paris, 2010: 45, fig. 21, as Tintoretto or Lambert Sustris.

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