Fitzwilliam Museum acquires rare slate painting

  • 7 September 2011

A rare painting on slate by Baroque artist Marcantonio Bassetti has been bought by the Fitzwilliam Museum with help from the Art Fund.

Marcantonio Bassetti, The dead Christ supported by the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene, c. 1616 © Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

Marcantonio Bassetti, The dead Christ supported by the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene, c. 1616

A rare painting on slate by Marcantonio Bassetti has been bought by the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge with help from the Art Fund. The dead Christ supported by the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene, which is in unusually good condition for a slate work of its period, is now on display in Gallery 7 of the Fitzwilliam.

The artist

The Baroque artist Marcantonia Bassetti (1586-1630) was trained by Felice Brusasorci in Verona, and later worked in Rome. His style was influenced by the artists Tintoretto, Veronese, Jacopo Bassano and, after his move to Rome, Caravaggio. He was one of a small group of painters who sometimes painted on slate, a Veronese speciality pioneered by Sebastiano del Piombo.

The painting

Unusually for a Baroque painting on slate, The dead Christ supported by the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene (painted circa 1616) remains in very good condition. Bassetti's painting demonstrates how effective the use of slate could be, providing a gleaming dark backdrop to the dramatically-lit figures of Christ, the Virgin and Mary Magdalene. The awkward positioning of Christ's body lends the picture a dynamic tension, while the unusual inclusion of an angel tending to Christ's wounds balances the composition.

The purchase

The dead Christ supported by the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene was bought by Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge for £225,000 with assistance from the Art Fund, the MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund, and the Gow Fund. It is the first work on slate to enter the Fitzwilliam's collection, and accords with the museum's active policy to extend its collection of Italian paintings.