PULZONE, Scipione
(b. 1544, Gaeta, d. 1598, Roma)

Lamentation

1591
Oil on canvas, 290 x 127 cm
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Il Gesù, the church of the Jesuits, was the largest church to have been built in 1568 in Rome since the sack of the city in 1527. The interior of the church is an open, single vessel barrel-vaulted space with truncated transepts, and a single wide apse. Side chapels line the nave and although there are connecting passages between them, they function as distinct spaces. The painted decoration of the chapels is among the earliest in Rome to respond to the concerns for clarity, historical accuracy, and compelling emotional impact voiced by the Council of Trent and its interpreters. The project of decoration was overseen by Giuseppe Valeriani (1542-1596), a Jesuit priest.

The Lamentation was commissioned from Pulzone for the altar in the chapel dedicated to the Passion of Christ. This painting demonstrates the new style of religious art following the Council of Trent. In the Lamentation, Christ's body takes central place in the composition close to the picture plane. The close focus and the naturalistic rendering of the figures - red-eyed with weeping and yet decorously restrained - give immediacy to the drama as each figure shows a concentrated personal reaction to the event, inviting viewers to share their emotions. Despite the moderation in the movement of the figures and the carefully orchestrated rhetoric of poses and gestures, the glowing unblemished body of Christ giving no indication of the violence done to it - is placed against the brilliant red garment of Joseph of Arimethea, a purely painterly echo of his recent ordeal.

The painting was most likely removed from the Gesù in 1798 during the French occupation of Italy when virtually everything of value in the church was appropriated by the occupying forces.