The Easter Story
For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. God did not send His Son into the world to condemn it, but to save it (John 3:16-17).
Every year on Easter, Christians celebrate the Resurrection of their lord and savior Jesus Christ, the triumph of Life over Death, promised by Jesus during his preaching. It is the final moment of the entire cycle of the Passion, the most moving and dramatic of this story, an escalation of physical and psychological suffering, through betrayal, torture, derision, mortification and finally death: the ultimate sacrifice which, according to Christian tradition, Jesus saves man from all sins.
This long narrative has been translated visually over the centuries into a series of scenes of great emotional impact, united by a shared message of faith. Above all, the Cross dominates: it is one of the most powerful image in human history, so authentic and at the same time revolutionary. Not only because it evokes a historical event, but above all because it tells the very essence of man: fragility, loneliness, the ability to love and generate life and hope. The artists have depicted it over the centuries in many ways: patiens or triumphans (suffering or triumphant) as in large crosses at the center of medieval churches; bold and perfect in the ideas of Renaissance and Baroque thought, and stylized in contemporary art. At all times, even for those who are not believers, the grandeur of that naked body, tortured and lonely facing death, inspires reflection and respect.
The series of works in the immense artistic heritage of the Uffizi Galleries (represented here by the Uffizi, the Palatine Gallery and the Modern Art Gallery), goes through the centuries from the XIVth century to the XIXth century. We offer you the best-known Italian and foreign artists (such as Rogier Van Der Wayden, Tiziano and Rubens) as well as some lesser known to the general public (such as Agnolo Gaddi, Luca Signorelli and Ludovico Cardi known as 'Cigoli'), and we invite you to "read" them, together with the excerpts from the Gospels, retracing the main episodes of the last part of Christ's life. It is a journey that highlights how much artistic production has been largely connected to religion in order to transmit, through the most touching and poetic characters of faith, messages of sacrifice, endurance of pain, hope, and aspiration to eternal life.
- 2/42Leandro Bassano
The Last Supper
Last decade of the 16th century
Oil on canvas, 92 x 135 cm
Palatine Gallery (Pitti Palace), Room of Justice
Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom." (Matthew 26:26–29).
Arriving in Florence from Urbino with the rich dowry of Vittoria Della Rovere in 1631 for her marriage to Ferdinand II, this painting depicts the Last Supper of Christ, which consecrates bread and wine, foreshadowing his sacrifice on the Cross to atone for the sins of humanity. The former symbolizes his body, and the latter his blood.
Around the table sit the disciples, each of whom is characterized in a very precise manner through their gestures and faces, with which the artist clearly reveals dramatic tension due to the prophetic announcement of betrayal.
Characteristic of Bassano's workshop is that of making elements communicate to their contemporaries, such as the architectural setting of the rooms, the furnishings, or the presence of secondary figures, with others being taken from more traditional representations of the Apostles and of Christ, such as their long tunics.
- 3/42Leandro Bassano
The scene takes place inside a late Renaissance room, characterized by pillars - that distinguish an upper floor - and by the representation, on the right, of a kitchen with pots and pans in the pantry and a cook intent on taming the fire. In the background, beyond Christ, a mountain landscape can be seen.
- 4/42Leandro Bassano
In this painting, Bassano plays particularly on the relationship between the sacred and the profane, images of everyday life, and other elements of symbolic value.
Many genre details give the appearance of a daily atmosphere, as indicated by the presence of some subjects such as the cat crouching in the foreground to monitor its surroundings, the dog begging for some crumbs, and the servant of African origin with the plate in his hand.
- 5/42Leandro Bassano
To emphasize the importance of the painting’s symbolic quality, on the table, one can note the repeated presence of bread, next to each of the guests, which alludes to the moment of the institution of the Eucharistic celebration.
Judas reaching to touch the dish with the lamb refers to the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross and therefore the Easter image which alludes to the prayer of Agnus Dei.
Furthermore, the traitorous disciple keeps a hand along his side, where he hides the bag in which he keeps the money that he received from the Sanhedrin authorities for the delivery of Christ.
- 6/42Pietro Perugino
Agony in the Garden
Oil on panel, 166 x 171 cm
Uffizi, Gallery of Statues and Paintings, Room 27
They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.” Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:30-34).
The evangelical episode illustrated in this painting refers to the hours following the Last Supper. This passage is one of the most moving of the story of Christ’s Passion: a suffering Jesus retires to pray, seeking the companionship and comfort of three apostles who, however, fall asleep, leaving him alone. The artist emphasizes this state of solitude and exhaustion by placing Christ in the center, kneeling on a rocky spur, in a quiet dialogue with the angel who offers him the chalice of passion.
The arrangement of the figures on different levels, together with the use of a gradual scale of chromatic tones (from the most accented and bright colors in the foreground to the more nuanced effects of the background) contribute to defining the perspective construction of the painting, centered on a pyramid composition created by the sleeping Apostles (at the base) and the figure of Christ (at the top).
- 7/42Pietro Perugino
In the background there is a silent lake landscape, which in the mist allows a glimpse of a Nordic city framed by the Umbrian hills and shrubs. The quiet is interrupted by an active group of soldiers who advance to capture Christ, with a confident Judas pointing him out with a decisive gesture.
- 8/42Pietro Perugino
The painting was originally made for the church of San Giusto in Florence. When the church was destroyed in 1529 during the siege of Florence, the work passed to the church of San Giovannino della Calza and the Galleria dell'Accademia, and then finally reached the Uffizi in 1919.
- 9/42Antonio Ciseri
Oil on canvas, 380 x 292 cm
Gallery of Modern Art (Pitti Palace), Room 14
Now it was the governor’s custom at the festival to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd.At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Barabbas.So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them “Which one do you want me to release to you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?”. While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.”But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.“Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor. “Barabbas” they answered (Matthew 27:15-22).
With a pronounced taste for antiquity and exoticism, Antonio Ciseri reconstructs the setting of this evangelical episode, combining mixed elements such as the Column of Antoninus Pius, of which the painter owned a photograph and which in the painting demonstrates the Roman domination of Judea in the time of Christ, as well as a monumental building which is exemplary of Egyptian architecture. These elements recall in a suggestive, but not philological, way urban spaces of a distant geographical and historical place. The scene has an unusual style with respect to traditional iconography: Christ is not presented facing forward, or towards those who will look at the painting so as to stimulate pious devotion and meditation on the sacrifice of the innocent, but is exposed from Pilate's balcony to the judgment of the crowd, capturing the event from "behind the scenes.” The episode specifically takes its inspiration from the Gospel according to Matthew but is more extensively treated in the Vie de Jésus by Ernest Renan (1863), a modern chronicle of the events of the life of Jesus which caused great protest because of the secularism of its setting, and that it was a source for Ciseri's lucid and passionate story.
- 10/42Antonio Ciseri
The condemnation of Jesus is narrated by choosing the point of view of Pilate's wife, Claudia Procula, the figure on the right who leans on the young maid. She had a dream which contained a premonition that the blood of the young man glimpsed in the courtyard of the palace would be unjustly spilled, and so she negotiated with her husband so that the innocent would be spared.
- 11/42Antonio Ciseri
The realization of this painting was very long and spanned two decades, during which Ciseri received ministerial office through the Florentine Academy of Fine Arts in 1871. He was motivated by the insatiable descriptive precision of a true historian and humanist, prioritized even before piety. This is expressed in the meticulous rendering of the surfaces and in the theatrical organization of the story, all illuminated by a cleverly orchestrated light. Emerging from the shadows of the foreground are the figures which are placed on the geometrical score of the floor around the fulcrum of the scene, which is located between Pilate’s gleaming mantle, pierced by the light, and the moving nakedness of Christ, brought out by the regal red of his draping cloak.
- 12/42Antonio Ciseri
The chromatic counterbalance of the blue of the garments of the quaestor (who leans on the seat on the left) and of the bound (who turns to the crowd to the right of Pilate), and the gilded bronze of Claudia's cloak, as well as the luxurious fur on the bench, support the variety, honesty, and richness of the story, as well as showing the absolute mastery of technique by the painter.
Oil on canvas, 71 x 54.6 cm
Then came Jesus forth, wearing the crown of thorns, and the purple robe. And Pilate saith unto them: "Behold the man!" (John 19:5).
The title of this work (Ecce Homo, which in Latin means "here is the man") reclaims the words that, in the Gospel of John, are attributed to Pontius Pilate, Roman governor of Judea. He pronounced them while presenting Jesus - scourged and mocked by the soldiers - to the Jews gathered outside the Praetorian Palace. Following the orders of Pilate, the priests and guards invoked the crucifixion, the governor washed his hands to remove all responsibility and finally sent Jesus to his destiny. In this devotional image Christ is usually depicted half-length, with his wrists tied tightly by a rope and the "royal" attributes that Roman soldiers gave him as a form of mockery, ridiculing his claim to be "King of the Jews": the crown of thorns , the purple cloak, and, in some cases, a cane to represent a scepter.
It is precisely in this way that Titian represents him in the canvas located in the Palatine Gallery, which for a long time was considered a workshop copy, and has only recently been directly attributed to the Venetian painter. The most convincing characteristic was the remarkable executive quality of the figure that emerges from a dark background in all its humble and silent acceptance of suffering. Titian shows us a "living and true” Christ (to use the same words with which Pietro Aretino describes this subject in a famous letter from January 1548), in which realism is explicitly manifested in the bruises left by the beatings on the half-naked body and in the drops of blood coming down from the forehead. Compared to the more traditional iconographies, which present Jesus in a frontal position with his eyes turned towards the viewer, the artist chooses a three-quarter position with his head reclining on his shoulder (almost resting on the cane) and his eyes lowered. This Christ does not look at us directly, yet possesses an exceptional expressive force: he manages to communicate to us a mute plea to tolerate the sufferings that also strongly affected Aretino himself. In fact, he wrote that the presence of this subject in his room had transformed it from a place of pleasure and lust into a "sacred temple and of God", pervaded by prayer and Christian honesty.
The Florentine painting is a replica of this work that the artist gave to a Tuscan scholar (identified as a canvas currently kept at the the Condé Museum), in turn reworking another painting sent as a gift to the emperor Charles V Habsburg (today in the Prado Museum in Madrid). Our Ecce Homo would be identified in 1623-24 in the inventories of the collection of Francesco Maria II della Rovere, Duke of Urbino, and arrived in Florence in 1631 with the inheritance of Vittoria (wife of Ferdinando II de' Medici).
In the face of Christ, framed by long hair and a thick beard, all the pathos of this sacred episode are enclosed: he bears with subdued resignation the pain of the wounds opened by the crown of thorns, from which blood descends in full-bodied drops to streak his face and neck. Titian's soft brushstroke, which was usually used to give carnal sensuality to his characters (mostly female), here gives crude realism to the figure of Jesus.
- 15/42Luca Signorelli
Predella with Stories of the Passion: The Last Supper, Prayer in the Garden and Capture of Christ, Ascent to Calvary, and the Flagellation
Oil on wood, 32.5 x 204.5 cm
Uffizi, Galleries of Statues and Paintings
Generally considered an integral part of the Altarpiece with the Virgin, the Trinity, and Saints Michael, Gabriel, Augustine and Athanasius, dating back to 1513-1514 and located at the Uffizi, the predella is divided into three compartments, developing the story in chronological order (from left to right).
The first episode depicts the Last Supper: the disciples are shocked by Christ's announcement that one of them will soon betray him. Only John - as usual - rests his sleeping head on the shoulder of Jesus who is holding a wafer, an interesting element since he is usually depicted with unleavened bread. While the Apostles form small groups, intent on conversing with each other, Judas, as usual, is featured from behind, standing away from the others and beyond the table.
The artist decides to portray the scene in an almost asphyxiated and bare room, where everything comes together to focus the viewer's attention on the sacred event.
In the second episode, Christ retires to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane, accompanied by Peter, James, and John. He asks them to keep watch with him because of the imminent arrival of the traitor with Jewish and Roman guards. The spatial organization includes a sense of silence in the foreground, occupied by the figure of Christ, completely absorbed in meditation, and by the presence of the sleeping disciples. This contrasts with the noise and excitement of the scenes in the background, which include the capture of Jesus and the ascent to Calvary. The whole scene is set inside a rural landscape with bluish-gray mountains seen in the background.
Finally, the third episode is particularly interesting, depicting the Flagellation in the in the Palace of the roman governor at the presence of Herod.
- 16/42Luca Signorelli
Signorelli pays particular attention to the scenes in the background, in which the troops of soldiers led by Judas appear. He indicates with a kiss whom they must arrest. At the center of the tumultuous crowd emerges Peter, who, to defend Jesus from being captured, cuts off a guard’s ear with a sword.
In the background to the right, the Ascent to Calvary is visible: Jesus, carrying the cross on his back, falls under the weight of it. Behind him, amongst the procession of soldiers and knights, the Pious Women stand out in particular. The Virgin, who, determined to follow her son closely, almost risks falling. Above the crowd appears an angel in flight, holding a goblet in his hands, a representation of the Gospel passage: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him” (Luke 22:42-43).
- 17/42Luca Signorelli
The scene takes place in an interior which is depicted in a very simple manner in order to give maximum emphasis to the figures. At the center, Jesus is tied to a column and flogged by four of Herod's henchmen, described in explicit anatomical detail. This characteristic reveals Signorelli's knowledge of Michelangelo's studies on the human figure. On the left we see two members of the Sanhedrin characterized by long robes, turbans, and sandals on their feet as they whisper with a soldier dressed in ancient armor. On the opposite side, Herod sits on a raised throne flanked by two guards.
It is interesting to note that the alliance between the representatives of the two corrupt powers, the more religious one of the Jews on the left, and the temporal one of the tetrarch on the right, is evident here. They are united in the desire to destroy the new spiritual belief embodied by the tortured Jesus.
- 18/42Luca Signorelli
Crucifixion with Mary Magdalene
Oil on canvas, 249 x 166 cm
Uffizi, Gallery of Sculpture and Painting, Room 32
Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” […] And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit (Matthew 27:45-50).
In this work, the centrality of the cross is immediately striking; it stands imposingly in the middle of a clearing of land bordered by strawberry seedlings and other meticulously depicted small flowers. On the molding there is a carving referring to Jesus, presented as King of the Jews in three different languages: Hebrew, ancient Greek, and Latin.
With his head resting on his chest and his thick blond hair framing his handsome face, Christ is still firmly nailed to the cross.Signorelli, in fact, with his usual skill in the muscular rendering of figures, shows us a body with already stiffened limbs, which is slowly acquiring the typical color of death. Only the striking red color of the blood coming out of the various wounds (especially the one on Christ’s side) and of the loincloth, embellished with streaks of other colors, stands out.
The position of the cross creates a structure symmetrical to the compositional space, which is longitudinally divided into two parts: on the right, in the background there are two female figures and one male, while even further in the distance we see two events following the Crucifixion, namely the deposition and transport to the tomb. On the left, the foreground is occupied by the half-kneeling figure of Mary Magdalene, represented with flowing blond hair falling softly on the silky fabric of her blue dress until it almost touches her knee, which is hidden by a flamboyant red cloak. The woman keeps her eyes fixed on the body of Christ, stretching one arm towards the viewer and the other as if to embrace the cross, in a gesture of contained desperation. Behind her sits a male figure in a moment of grief, who is identified as Saint Peter.
In this work, the artist lingers particularly on the representation of the hilly landscape, focusing on the cracks of the rocks, the trees that are reflected in the water, and the grassy knolls. Everything is dominated by a very clear sky, covered by some white clouds, which sets the scene in the afternoon, pervaded by a soft blue light.
- 19/42Luca Signorelli
They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha, which means “the place of the skull” (Mark 15:22).
At the foot of Signorelli’s cross, there is a skull on which a lizard rests its paws: this alludes to the aramaic significance of Golgota ( 'gūlgūtā' means skull ), the name given to the place of the Crucifixion, which took place on the mountain where Adam was believed to be buried. In Christian symbolism, the ancestor's skull is directly placed at the sacrifice of Christ, since he, dying on the cross, has redeemed all humanity stained by original sin. On the other hand, the lizard is a symbol which represents the Resurrection, as its tail, even if broken, can grow back.
- 20/42Luca Signorelli
Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: “Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly (Matthew 26:75).
On the banks of the stream, sitting on a boulder, we see a man with a beard and white curly hair holding one knee with both hands and looking down in a moment of sad reflection. It is often interpreted as the final moment of the denial of Saint Peter, who, after having stated three times that he did not know Jesus at the time of his capture, remembers Christ’s prediction and cries bitter tears.
- 21/42Luca Signorelli
Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days” (John 2:19).
On the top of the rocky spur, Signorelli offers us a view of the town, in which we can recognize a reference to Castel Sant’Angelo in the building located right on the cliff. On the left, there is a temple in ruins, which was broken in half when Jesus died. The Gospel refers to a parallel between the ruined temple and the lifeless body of Christ, for Christ is resurrected after three days, and the temple of Jerusalem is rebuilt under the reign of the new religion of Christianity.
- 22/42Luca Signorelli
On the right side of the painting, on a hill, Signorelli demonstrates all his descriptive ability in illustrating secondary episodes with respect to the main subject. We see the Deposition with many characters crowded around the Cross, fervently detaching the lifeless body of Jesus, who then collapses on the shoulder of Joseph of Arimathea ( or maybe Nicodemus ) who was authorized by Pilate to provide burial (MT 27, 57-60). At the foot of the cross, the Pious Women assist the Virgin Mary. Lower down on the ridge of the mountain, some of the same figures are depicted carrying Christ to the tomb in a sad procession, including the Madonna who, half-hidden in her cloak, is completely overcome by grief over the loss of her son.
- 23/42Agnolo Gaddi
Tempera on wood, 57,5 x 77 cm
Uffizi, Gallery of Statues and Paintings, Room 5-6
About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.” Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.” And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit (Matthew 27:46-50).
This painting represents the tragic moment of Christ's death on the cross. The artist paints Christ at the center of the scene, emaciated, with his head reclining on his shoulder and now resigned to his destiny. The drama of pain and death is even more tragically prominent due to the isolation of the naked figure, in the middle of a completely golden sky, devoid of atmospheric or architectural elements.
The subtle air and sacred quality contrast with the colorful procession of figures, animated by strongly characterized expressions and gestures erupting in the lower part of the painting.
Here emerge some distinctive features of Agnolo's style, which although descending directly from the school of Giotto, through the mediation of his father Taddeo, at the end of the 14th century renews the art of the master in the light of late Gothic innovations. The composition seems in fact to lack a unitary direction, and the eye of the observer tends to get lost and dwell on secondary episodes and certain emphasized figures.
- 24/42Agnolo Gaddi
One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39).
Agnolo uses a typically medieval iconography for the thief, with the soul of the dying person depicted as a newborn, kidnapped by a devil with bizarre and grotesque features.
- 25/42Agnolo Gaddi
When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54).
Compared to the brutal appearance of the thief, committed to mocking Christ, Agnolo instead adopts a refined and elegant style for the figure of the Roman centurion, of whom he recognizes the divine nature. The refined lines of the face and the colors of the cloak just moved by the wind show a different trait of the artist's style, allowing the interpretation of late-Gothic stylistic innovations in a lyrical sense.
- 26/42Agnolo Gaddi
When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom. “Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.” This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said, “They divided my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.” So this is what the soldiers did (John 19:23-24).
The soldiers are depicted in the act of drawing lots for which one of them would obtain the tunic. The artist focuses on the precious details of the garments, defined by brilliant colors and golden finishes.
- 27/42Agnolo Gaddi
Stabat Mater dolorósa
iuxta crucem lacrimósa,
dum pendébat Fílius.
Cuius ánimam geméntem,
contristátam et doléntem
At the Cross her station keeping,
stood the mournful Mother weeping,
close to her Son to the last.
Through her heart, His sorrow sharing,
all His bitter anguish bearing,
now at length the sword has passed.
(Stabat Mater, Jacopone da Todi - attributed)
Under the cross, the lifeless Madonna is seen on the left, abandoned in the arms of the pious women, while at the foot of the panel Mary Magdalene and St. John the Evangelist are mourning the death of Jesus.
Also in this scene the lyrical vein of the painter prevails, who with expressive sensibility and descriptive wisdom narrates the pain and sense of remission that characterize the figures.
Pietà di San Remigio
Tempera on wood, 195 x 134 cm
Uffizi, Gallery of Statues and Paintings, Room 4
Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs (John 19:40).
Christ lies on the ground, mourned by his mother and those who accompanied him to death on the cross. On the left, the sorrowful Madonna, still red in the face from tears, supports his body; while on the right, the Magdalene is sulky and appears resigned. Behind them, almost unconnected to the scene, stand solemnly Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, the latter showing the three nails and the ointment jar. Around the body of Christ, other pious women kneel and kiss his hands. Behind them, St. John the Evangelist, with his hands clasped, looks at the scene with suffering. On the left, another woman prays, turning her gaze upwards.
The artist was one of the most skilled followers of Giotto, earning the name Giottino, further encouraging the common opinion that he was the son of the great Florentine master. The artist’s ability to renew the prototype of the fourteenth-century panel painting, unifying the composition and arranging the figures so as to give the scene a powerful sense of dramatic theatricality, is clear evidence of its Giottesque influence, probably filtered through an apprenticeship at Maso di Banco.
The total absence of architectural elements, with the bare and bloody cross dominating the upper part of the panel, as well as studied compositional devices such as the woman seen from behind in the foreground, accentuate the tragic intensity and force the observer to focus on the drama and empathize with the characters.
The gold in the background completely isolates the mourners and emphasizes their desperation, while the observer is cleverly led to focus his attention on the visceral naturalism of the faces and their expressive power.
The realistic attention to detail and emotional introspection testify to the influence exercised by Giovanni da Milano and, more generally, by the art of the Alps.
The work was commissioned for the Church of San Remigio in Florence: on the left we see two clients, a Benedictine nun and an elegantly dressed girl with her hands crossed over her chest. In the background, San Benedetto and Bishop Remigio, with a gesture of blessing and paternal protection, lay their hands on their heads.
Purchased by the State in 1842, it has been exhibited at the Uffizi since 1851.
- 31/42Ludovico Cardi known as Cigoli
Oil on wood, 321 x 206 cm
Palatine Gallery (Pitti Palace), Room of Apollo
Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds (John 19:38-39).
Commissioned in 1600 by the Compagnia della Croce in Empoli, annexed to the church of Santo Stefano degli Agostiniani, and delivered on January 27, 1608, this work is unanimously recognized as one of the summits of the seventeenth-century Tuscan painting and artistry in general. With its great formal beauty, this painting won over the Grand Prince Ferdinando de'Medici who, in 1690, following a practice customary to him, acquired it for his own collection, giving in exchange to the monks a conspicuous donation of money and a copy of the work executed by Anton Domenico Gabbiani.
Cigoli devoted much time to the realization of the work (as evidenced by a collection of preparatory drawings of considerable quality), which in fact presents an accurate composition, rich in figures skillfully juxtaposed with each other, thanks also to the clear play of lines , lights, and shadows.
The scene is divided almost in half by a diagonal, which, starting at the top left, descends following the profile of the young man's arm who, climbing up the ladder, helps Giuseppe d'Arimatea to lay Jesus on the white sheet held by St. John the Evangelist. This line, also identified by the side and the heavily abandoned legs of the body of Christ, as well as from the arm and shoulder of St. John, separates this group of figures from that of the women (the Virgin Mary, Mary of Cleophas and Mary Magdalene). The women, seen on the left at the foot of the cross, express their pain in a content and introspective way. Behind them emerge three other male figures, among which Nicodemus is present, the Pharisee secretly converted to the teachings of Jesus, who brought an amphora of myrrh and aloes with which to anoint the body of the Savior before placing it in the tomb.
To give even more expressive and theatrical incisiveness to this dramatic moment, Cigoli inserts some brilliant “spots of color” that animate the surface of the picture, breaking here and there the various chiaroscuro passages. This is the case, for example, of the shining blue of the sleeve of the doublet of Giuseppe d'Arimatea, of the bright red of the cloak of San Giovanni Evangelista, as well as the pale blue and of the orange-yellow of the Magdalene's garments.
- 32/42Ludovico Cardi known as Cigoli
A dark sky looms over the scene of the Deposition, which directly evokes a passage from the Gospel, which reads: "It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon" (Luke 23:44). Among the heavy black clouds, on the sides of the cross, however, two circles appear the one on the left in orange, the one on the right in blue. Inside each of them, we see a half-naked half-bust figure who mourns, covering his face with his hands.
These are two symbolic images that represent the Sun and the Moon, the two stars that have always accompanied the journey of men, who weep, paying homage to the sacrifice of Jesus. Present in the Crucifixions since the figurative medieval tradition, they represent the passage of time in its two main meanings: day and night, to which light and darkness correspond. Through them, therefore, we allude to the divine nature of Christ, who sits above time and history, but also to his suffering as a man who allowed for the salvation and redemption of all humanity.
- 33/42Ludovico Cardi known as Cigoli
The lower left corner of the painting is occupied entirely by the figure of the Virgin Mary, sitting on the ground, looking down, her arms raised in a calm gesture of desperation. Particular chromatic and symbolic importance is given to the ultramarine blue mantle that covers the entire head and then falls back to the ground with a wide strip of fabric, on which two of the main symbols of the Passion of Christ are clearly shown: the crown of thorns and the nails.
- 34/42Antonio Ciseri
Oil on canvas, 80 x 136 cm
Gallery of Modern Art (Pitti Palace), Room 14
Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs (John 19:38-40).
Under the intensity of an almost metaphysical light, the solemn procession that leads Christ to his tomb becomes monumental. In the foreground, the Virgin, glancing to the sky, seems to return the dead Son to the Father with a clear gesture. The women behind her embody human suffering, including the figure of Mary Magdalene, who combines despair and sensuality in a perfect balance. John, with his face in shadow, supports the weight of Jesus' body and turns to Mary, while Joseph of Arimatea and Nicodemus hold up his white shroud and lead the procession to the grave.
In order to represent the intensely human truth of the event, and to modernize its historical nature, Ciseri, in accordance with the principles of modern depictions of history, focuses on the description of emotion, as well as the spectacular glow of light. His meticulous rendering of gestures, expressions, clothes, skin, and physiognomy generated great praise. However, he was met with criticism for depicting such a sacred theme, which was treated as a paradigm of human misfortune, with such an excess of realism. These ideas were contemplated by Ciseri through picturesque rather than illustrious representations of themes such as the Entombment, for example the Baglioni Altarpiece of the Borghese Gallery (1507) by Raphael, and the Deposition made by Caravaggio for Santa Maria della Vallicella (1600 -1604 c.), now located in the Vatican Museums.
The painting is one of the replicas that Ciseri drew starting from 1872 from the prototype made for the Sanctuary of the Madonna del Sasso in Locarno (1864-1869).
- 35/42Rogier van der Weyden
Lamentation of Christ
1450 ca. or 1460-63
Oil on wood, 110 x 96 cm
Uffizi, Gallery of Statues and Paintings, Room 15
On the occasion of the Jubilee of 1450, Flemish painter Rogier van der Weyden embarked on a journey to Italy that led him close to the main courts of the Renaissance: firstly Rome, and then Naples, Mantua, Milan, Ferrara, and Florence. In the Tuscan city, he had significant contacts with Beato Angelico, which are explicitly reflected in this picture. In fact, it recounts (and reinterprets through the filter of the very particular Nordic artistic vision) the depiction of the Pietà painted by Angelico for the platform of the Pala di San Marco (1438-1443) and today at the Alte Pinakothek in Munich. From this work comes the idea of the centrality of the tomb carved in rock, in front of which the body of Christ, depicted in all its expressive thinness, is sadly presented to the faithful. Giuseppe d'Arimatea (on the left) and Nicodemus (on the right) support him from behind, also holding the edges of the shroud, while on the sides the Virgin Mary and Saint John the Evangelist support him by his thread-like arms, causing him to take a slightly diagonal position. Jesus' body barely rests his skeletal feet on the stone of the tomb thrown to the ground and almost seems to slide towards the Magdalene kneeling in front of him with his arms wide open in a gesture of desperation. The whole composition is constructed with a raised point of view, in order to fully engage the viewer, who feels almost "sucked" into the scene. To accentuate this sense of actualization of the sacred event, attention is paid to the typical detail of Flemish painting, which focuses on making the faces, hair, and clothes as realistic as possible (those in fur and brocade, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, are very valuable), as well as the chromatic and luminous effects.
The work, now located at the Uffizi, decorated the chapel of the Villa Medici in Careggi, where it had been at least since 1482. Therefore, it is very likely that the Medici were the direct commissioners of the work.
According to some, it was finished during his stay in the mid-15th century, while others claim it was painted later in Flanders (1460-63).
- 36/42Rogier van der Weyden
The extreme realism of Flemish painting, aimed at arousing emotion and full viewer participation in the suffering of Christ's sacrifice, reaches its peak in the elderly faces of Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, furrowed by wrinkles and tears.
- 37/42Rogier van der Weyden
Strong realism also characterizes the landscape, defined by many minutely depicted details. The curious eye of the spectator lingers on each of them: from the wooden gate that closes the path traveled by the pious women (who will find the empty tomb of Christ after the Resurrection), to the towered city with a clear Nordic style in the background, to the mountain of Golgotha on which stand the three crosses in a dimensional blue sky.
- 38/42Rogier van der Weyden
At the bottom right, we see a precious handcrafted gold container; it is the jar of oils and perfumed essences with which Mary Magdalene anointed the feet of Jesus Christ. In the meadow (but also under the stones and in the cracks of the rock of the tomb) grow a great variety of plants and flowers, depicted with botanical precision.
The Resurrection of Jesus
Oil on wood, 133,2 x 83,2 cm
Uffizi, Gallery of Statues and Paintings, Room 83
“This is the night” sings the Easter Exultet, “when Christ broke the prison-bars of death and rose victorious from the underworld”.
The Risen Christ by Titian, painted in oil around 1511 when the artist was about twenty years old, is a work in which the narrative elements are traced back to the fundamentals and the painter focuses on the image of the Risen One. In fact, according to the Synoptic Gospels, Mary Magdalene and the Pious Women go to the tomb with the herbs for burial; here there appear to be two men in shining robes who ask: " “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!" (Luke 24:5-6) The first element that is encountered, therefore, is the empty tomb, an element which constitutes an essential "sign" for believers. The artist then chooses to depict what is written in the sources: Christ’s feet rest on a "neutral" plane which is presumably his tomb. The whole painting is thus concentrated on the figure of the Risen One, through whom Titian transmits his own personal vision of sacred images, or a harmonious dialogue between heaven and earth, in a space that is composed of both landscape and luminous sky.
Titian was born in Pieve di Cadore, but he is a true Venetian artist. He observes and evaluates the products of other artists working in Venice, a city in which there is an exceptional presence of artists particularly in the first twenty years of the 16th century. Some examples include Giorgione, whom he met in 1508 and with whom he collaborated at the Fondaco dei Tedeschi, Albrecht Dürer, who is in the city in 1494 and again in 1505, as well as Giovanni Bellini, Sebastiano del Piombo, Lorenzo Lotto, and more. In this work we see trademarks of this particular style in the detailed description of nature, the wide drapery and open space, and the bright color palette. The artist, however, always follows his own technique of the Venetian style through the utilization of color, in which light enters the composition and shines brightly, making figures, landscapes, and everything depicted luminous and almost polished.
Ludovico Dolce will write: "He was not only divine as the considered by the world, but as a god and without equal" (Dialogue of Painting, Venice, 1557).
The Risen Christ came into the collection in 2001 through purchase by the State. It was owned by a member of the Contini Bonacossi family and restored in 2002. It is currently exhibited an area dedicated to the works of Titian.
- 42/42Pieter Paul Rubens
The Resurrection of Jesus
Oil on canvas, 192 x 157,3 cm
Palatine Gallery (Pitti Palace), Sala of Fine Arts
After the terrible event of the Crucifixion and death of Jesus, the cycle of the Passion comes to an end on Sunday and Easter Monday, the moment when the apostles and the pious women testify his resurrection.
Rubens’ canvas, exhibited in the Palatine Gallery, is one of the most original and spectacular interpretations of this theme. It does not faithfully follow the evangelical narrative, but points the attention to a single, iconic moment: the rising of Jesus, taking the banner of the cross and revealing himself in all his formidable physical power.
The angel behind him, resembling a teenager, carefully lifts the light and airy shroud to unveil the miraculous apparition. On the right, two angels flock with the crown of thorns, the symbol of his sacrifice for humankind.
Rubens gives us a triumphant image, which remains in our imaginations not only because of the grandeur of a perfect body, inspired both by Michelangelo's bare figure in the Sistine Chapel and the ancient statuary, but also for the extraordinary ability to manage colours in order to enrich every object represented.
We can admire the expressive strength of Jesus’ gaze and the richness of chromatic passages of all the figures. On the tomb you can see some ears of wheat, on which until just before rested the deposed: they are an ancient symbol that in Greek myths symbolized the rebirth and the Nature that awakens after the long winter hibernation. Wheat is the gift of God, symbol of the alternating seasons and of the work of man. This alludes, by extension, to the Eucharistic celebration, and to the host, which is distributed to the believers.
The great canvas of Rubens was realized a few years after his stay in Italy and is a great example of what the young painter had learned during his years spent admiring the Venetian painting, the myths of the great sixteenth-century Rome and the ancient statuary.
The Easter Story
Scientific Coordinator: Anna Bisceglia, Katiuscia Quinci
Texts: Beatrice Cristini, Clara Fiammetti, Matteo Guglielmi, Katiuscia Quinci, Chiara Ulivi
Translations: Piper Mathews
Graphics: Andrea Biotti
Photos by Francesco del Vecchio e Roberto Palermo
Please note: each image in this virtual tour may be enlarged for more detailed viewing.