Attributed to FRANCESCO DEL COSSA

(Ferrara, ca. 1435 – 1477 Bologna)

The Resurrection of Christ

Tempera on poplar panel

8 ¼ x 15 ¼ inches (21 x 38.8 cm), painted surface  
9 ¾ x 16 ¾ inches, (24.8 x 42.5 cm.), panel

Provenance:   

Achillito Chiesa, Milan[1]; his sale, New York, American Art Galleries, November 22-23, 1927, lot 102, as School of Andrea Mantegna; illus.; there purchased by: R.J. Keller
Private collection, Budapest, as of 1929[2];
Galerie Fleishmann, Munich;
Mrs. Charles Montague Cooke, Sr., née Anna Charlotte Rice, Honolulu, Hawaii (acquired for her by the art historian Osvald Sirén [1879-1966]); her gift in 1931 to:
Honolulu Academy of Art, Honolulu until deaccessioned 1964
Dillingham Collection, Honolulu, Hawaii
Private collection, Honolulu, Hawaii

Literature:  

W. Angelelli, in W. Angelelli and A.G. De Marchi, Pittura dal Duecento al primo Cinquecento nelle fotografie di Girolamo Bombelli, Milan, 1991, p. 217, no. 433, as circle of Andrea Mantegna, by an unknown painter of the Veneto-Ferrarese school; compares work with Crucifixion panel in the Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice [inv. 570], which he attributes to Giorgio Schiavone, and with illuminations by Leonardo Bellini). Illus.

This fascinating depiction of the Resurrection has perplexed art historians for decades, although its presence in a succession of private collections limited direct study.  The limited scholarly opinion that exists follows the painting’s designation at the 1927 Chiesa sale as by  a follower of Andrea Mantegna; this was in part due to the painting’s putative similarity to Mantegna’s Resurrection in the Musée des Beaux Arts, Tours, once part of the predella of the artist’s San Zeno altarpiece.[3]  Yet that resemblance remains superficial and the only other attribution proposed for the painting has been a tentative one to the Mantuan illuminator Pietro Guindaleri, himself an imperfectly known figure, and one not known to have been a painter.[4]

Recent cleaning of the painting has brought to light the high quality of the work, its excellent condition, and brilliant palette –while permitting a more nuanced appreciation of its style.[5]  In an email of October 2017, Professor Mauro Lucco has associated the Resurrection with the work of the Ferrarese master Francesco del Cossa.  He notes the similarity of the drapery of Christ and the rock formations with Cossa’s frescoes of the month of March in the celebrated frescoes in the Palazzo Schifanoia in Ferrara, as well such details as the faces of the sleeping soldier in blue and that of the mourning Madonna in the Crucifixion from the Griffoni polyptych (National Gallery of Art, Washington).  Our limited knowledge of Cossa’s career –what is known of his work falls roughly within the single decade of 1465-1475—both invites the proposal that the present work may be by him and prohibits any confirmation that it is. The stylistically related artist known as the Maestro dagli Occhi Spalancati, to whom the months of June and July in the Schifanoia frescoes are given, is of a more mannered style and lesser quality than is seen in the present work.  Our painting also lacks the characteristic wide-open eyes (“occhi spalancati”) that gives this artist his sobriquet.

The Resurrected Christ, according to established Christian iconography, is dressed in white holding a banner of the same color marked with the sign of the Cross in red. He stands on the edge of a stone sarcophagus, in front of a rocky promontory, which contains seraphim (from the first hierarchy of angels) in rows directly behind Him. In the foreground is an arc of five, resting, Roman soldiers, of whom only that at right is clearly awake. On either side of the promontory are glimpses of open countryside that lead to a large lake or the open sea. A section of hill is visible at far left and a tall, spare, wispy tree rises from the foreground just to the right of that feature. Two convincingly-rendered, hilly islands are visible at the left and right, and the effect of a brilliant, sunny day is apparent thanks to the artist’s skill at aerial perspective and his naturalistic depiction of bunched clouds and a radiant sky. 

One whimsical aspect of the painting are the fanciful cloud shapes – one at far left in the shape of a galloping horse and another resembling a fleeing dragon situated just to the right of the rocky outcrop.  While the dragon may simply reflect the fantasy of the artist, it may as well reference the Risen Christ’s victory over evil.   Two biblical quotations bear out this interpretation: according to Isaiah 27: 1, “…the Lord with his sore and great and strong sword shall punish leviathan the piercing serpent, even leviathan that crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea.” A similar message occurs in Revelation 12: 9, which states “And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth and his angels were cast out with him.” 

In all likelihood, the present painting functioned as part of a predella affixed to the base of an unidentified altarpiece. At least two other sections of that component must have once existed, of which the Resurrection likely formed the central scene.

 

[1] The earliest known record of the Resurrection of Christ is the catalogue of the Achillito Chiesa collection sale which was held in New York in 1927; the painting appeared as lot 102. Achillito (i.e. Achille, Jr.) Chiesa was the son of an Argentine coffee importer, Achille Chiesa, and his wife, Ida Pittaluga (d. 1925), who had settled in Milan at the beginning of the twentieth century. From an early age, Achillito showed a passion for collecting, in which he was aided and advised by the Milan painting conservator, Carlo Moroni. Later, this occupation became an obsession, incurring the family with huge debts. As a result (according to a court order of the Milan Tribunale, dated July 7, 1923), Achillito’s mother took responsibility for his collection, of which the best parts had come from two sources: the London-based artist and dealer, Charles Fairfax Murray, and the Galerie Trotti in Paris (the latter supplied Chiesa with several works from the famed Galleria Crespi in Milan). The senior Chiesa’s lawyer, Adolfo Werner, was then able to arrange for the export of much of Achillito’s collection to America, where they were eventually sold at auction at the American Art Association, New York, in three sessions, November 27, 1925, April 16, 1926, and November 22-23, 1927. A contract guaranteeing a minimum return of one million dollars was promised to a consortium of Chiesa’s many creditors, and the whole process of authenticating, shipping and cataloguing the collection took up to two years. (For Achillito Chiesa and his collection, see M. Cariani, “Achillito Chiesa” in Per Brera: i collezionisti e doni alla pinacoteca dal 1882 al 2000 [ed. by M. Cariani and C. Quattrini], Florence, 2004, pp. 125-126; for the Chiesa collection auctions in New York, see W. Towner [completed by S. Varble], The Elegant Auctioneers, New York, 1970, pp. 382-383, 412-414.)

Many of the paintings in the Achillito Chiesa collection, including the Resurrection of Christ, were photographed by Girolamo Bombelli (1882-1969), who was based in Milan and worked for local publishing companies, auction houses, art dealers and private collectors. Two years after his death, his negatives were acquired by the Gabinetto Fotografico Nazionale (which later became part of the Istituto Centrale per il Catalogo e la Documentazione). A large selection was published twenty years later, and of these, the most important component was the photographs of the Achillito Chiesa collection, made prior to its dispersal (see introduction by Serena Romano, in W. Angelleli and A.G. De Marchi, 1991, cited above, pp. 12-13). Paintings from the Chiesa collection eventually made their way into several American public collections, including the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Samuel H. Kress Collection.

[2] According to an annotation by Raimond Van Marle on a photograph in the Fiocco photographic archive, Fondazione Giorgio Cini, Venice, possibly identifiable as the collection of Baron Podmaniezky, i.e. Baron Ferenc Podmaniczky (died 1928); for this information, see W. Angelelli, cited above.

[3] Angelelli maintained the designation of “Circle of Mantegna” in his publication of the old photograph of the painting, cited above.  He compares the work with a Crucifixion panel in the Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice [inv. 570], which he attributes to Giorgio Schiavone; and with illuminations by Leonardo Bellini. The Crucifixion panel has also been attributed to Leonardo Boldrini (by Andrea de’Marchi, in Mantegna, 1431-1506 exh. cat., Paris, Musée du Louvre, [ed. by G. Agosti and D. Thiébaut], 2008, p. 174, no. 58.

Angelelli also cites Berenson’s comment  (on the verso of the photograph in the Berenson Fototeca at I Tatti) that the painting should be considered Ferrarese, citing the face of the central soldier.  However, the single digitized photograph of the painting available bears only Berenson’s notation “with Mantegna School.” Cf.https://images.hollis.harvard.edu/primo-explore/fulldisplay?docid=HVD_VIAolvwork671648&context=L&vid=HVD_IMAGES&search_scope=default_scope&tab=default_tab&lang=en_U

[4] By Andrea de’Marchi, in an email to Eliot Rowlands, October 1, 2015

[5] By Andrea Rothe; see his conservation report, dated June 23, 2014. According to Rothe, the paint surface is “quite well preserved,” having been somewhat over-cleaned in the past, and the panel support retains its original thickness of about 1 ¼ inches (3.8 cm.).