Artist unknown, Pietà Enlarge 1 /1

Artist unknown

Italy (Ferrara) born 1400 /1600

Pietà [Pieta] c.1470 Place made: Ferrara, Emilia-Romagna, Ferrara province, Italy
Materials & Technique: sculptures, painted wood

Primary Insc: No inscriptions
Dimensions: 46.9 h x 32.7 w x 17.5 d cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1986
Accession No: NGA 86.1054
  • with Eugenio Ventura, Florence, until 1940;
  • sold at auction, Christie's London, 13 December 1985, lot 55A;
  • when bought by the Australian National Gallery, February 1986

PLEASE NOTE: this work is on long term loan at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne more information

The basis of the attribution of this polychrome sculpture to Cosmè Tura (1430?–1495) is the link to the only two known Pietàs by the artist — the Pietà 1472? (Museo Correr, Venice) and the Lamentation from the Roverella altarpiece (Louvre, Paris). According to Ruhmer, '… there is nothing in Emilian sculpture of the second half of the Quattrocento that can be compared with [this Pietà] — only Tura's paintings.' Furthermore, Ruhmer argues, in comparing this work with the Venice Pietà or the Christ with the somewhat later Dead Christ supported by two angels1 or even the Madonna with Virgin of the Annunciation from the S. Maria della Consolazione altarpiece2 he recognises Tura's method of moulding forms.

[However] the decisive factor is that this sculpture possesses Tura's particular style of that time — suitably translated into sculpture. The composition is of striking originality — there are no overlappings or interweavings, the plastic limbs glide in delicate turns and bends, as if they were afraid of being touched. Even the hands, raised in mourning, of the Mother with the mighty head of a Sibyl, pause before they are folded. The compactness of the group is achieved, not by means of connecting links, but by means of analogies. This method of composition so characteristic of Tura can nowhere be better appreciate than this little work, in which things become concretely perceptible which can only be hinted at in a painted picture owing to the fact that we view from one side only. In the carefree, very personal 'calligraphy' of the execution, the nearest approach to this work in terracotta [sic] is the pen drawing of a Doctor in the Church teaching,3 which Venturi brings into relationship with the half-lengths of Fathers of the Church in the dome at Belriguardo ….4

Whatever conclusions are drawn about the authorship of this sculpture, it is certainly an extraordinarily energetic, emotive and unusual work, one for which there are very few fifteenth-century comparisons. The sculpture, which has sustained substantial insect damage internally, would probably have been made for a niche within a small church or private chapel. The now bald Virgin may have originally worn a headpiece of human hair.

Lucina Ward

  1. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
  2. Colonna collection, Rome
  3. Given to Tura or possibly Giovanni Bellini, Musée Bonnat, Bayonne]
  4. Eberhard Ruhmer, Tura: Paintings and Drawings, complete edition, London: Phaidon 1958, pp.36-37

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra