Lazzaro Bastiani - inv. 1586
This small work, painted on parchment backed on to wood, was perhaps part of a bigger work and was probably destined for private devotional purposes.
At the foot of the cross, the dead Christ lies stretched out on his mother's knees. She is weeping for him with her hands clasped together while Saint John is holding Christ's head and Magadalene points to the wounds on his feet. The flowers in the foreground refer to the passion and death of Christ: the cyclamen, low down on the left, is the symbol of Mary's pain, while the five-petalled viola, on the right, refers to Christ's five wounds.
Datable to about 1465, the painting is the work of Lazzaro Bastiani, a Venetian painter active for almost sixty years. He trained in the circle of Antonio Vivarini's workshop, in a context that was still late Gothic, and then came under Giovanni Bellini's influence, while looking at the same time at Andrea Mantegna's works. The pathos characterising the faces of the mourners was much appreciated by the fifteenth-century public, who knew, on the basis of classical literature, that one of the most highly acclaimed qualities of the great ancient masters was the ability to render pain on the human face.
The naturalism of the painting appears in contrast to the choice of bright colours and the unrealistic proportions drawn from northern models: the German Vesperbilder: small sculptural groups portraying the Virgin mourning her dead son. But the typical nature of Lazzaro Bastiani's painting can be seen above all in the narrative vein expressed in the small figures animating the landscape, the pairs of travellers, the greyhound hunting a deer, or the horseman disappearing into the distance.