CRESPI, Giuseppe Maria
(b. 1665, Bologna, d. 1747, Bologna)


Oil on canvas, 127 x 95 cm
Gemäldegalerie, Dresden

This painting belongs to a series by Crespi depicting the seven sacraments as individual scenes: baptism, confession, confirmation, communion, extreme unction, ordination and matrimony.

In 1739, while Crespi was still alive, the Bolognese Gianpietro Zanotti gave a thorough account of the origin of the paintings: 'One day Crespi saw a man in the confessional at San Benedetto's confessing his sins to the priest. A ray of sunlight fell on the man's head and shoulders, and was reflected inside the small chamber to produce the most beautiful contrast between light and dark that can be imagined. He [Crespi] studied it very carefully and, as soon as he was back home, did a small drawing of the scene. Then he sent two porters to fetch him a confessional, which he promptly installed in his room with staged lighting. He introduced Ludovico Mattioli, who chanced to be there, into the scene of the confession, and painted him so well that everyone recognised him, as they did the priest, who was the same person who had lent him the confessional.' Zanotti further recounts that Crespi made a gift of the painting to Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni in Rome, who was highly delighted and commissioned the remaining six paintings.

Crespi treats the subjects of his paintings realistically, while simultaneously making much of incidental matters that distract from the main action, matters which belong more to chance occurrences in a genuine religious scene and not to an idealised one. Crespi dated the Baptism to 1712, giving us a clue to the dating of the whole series. A large number of replicas and copies, such as the drawn and engraved versions, speaks for the popularity of these paintings.