Italian Renaissance and Baroque Art

Jacopo Ligozzi (Italian, Verona 1547 - 1626 Florence)
Portable Altar in a Carrying Case (Christ on the Mount of Olives), 1608
Signed and dated on rock at lower left: Jacopo / Ligozzi. F. 1608
Painting, oil on copper; tabernacle and case of mixed materials1
Painting: 10 1/2 x 6 3/8 in. (26.6 x 16.1 cm)2
R. T. Miller, Jr. Fund, 1958
AMAM 1958.1

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This richly decorated piece by Jacopo Ligozzi, a painting mounted in an elaborate tabernacle frame and carrying case, is a rare surviving example of the type of small altarpiece used for private devotions in Europe during the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

All elements of this work--painting, tabernacle, and case--appear to have been designed by Jacopo Ligozzi, and executed either by him or by members of his workshop. Although records exist for many paintings executed by Ligozzi for the Medici court, no reference to this particular piece has been found.3 This may indicate that the altarpiece was commissioned of Ligozzi by a patron outside the Medici court, or, as Hagenmann has suggested, that it was commissioned by a member of the Medici family as a gift for someone else.4

The altar's central painting depicts Christ on the Mount of Olives, consoled and supported by an angel as he is literally overcome by his spiritual torment. In Ligozzi's composition, a chalice--a visualization of the metaphorical cup of bitterness referred to in the Gospels, and a ubiquitous if textually unauthorized allusion to Christ's Passion--appears on a rocky outcropping at upper left, illuminated by a burst of celestial light.

Directly below the central painting and set into a panel inlaid with pietre dure is a lapis lazuli plaque with The Sacrifice of Isaac painted upon it. Here too, an angel intervenes, staying the blow of Abraham's sword and sparing Isaac's life. The juxtaposition of this scene with Christ on the Mount of Olives is not arbitrary; in a long-established system of typological correspondences between Old and New Testament scenes, the Sacrifice of Isaac was interpreted as a prefiguration of Christ's Crucifixion.5 Similarly, the Sacrifice of Isaac and Christ on the Mount of Olives share elements of a testing of faith, overcome by a complete trust in God's will.

Bacci has cited a drawing by Ligozzi of Christ and an angel in relation to this painting.6 In addition, Christ's slumped pose in the Oberlin picture recalls that of the aged saint in Ligozzi's St. Jerome Supported by an Angel, dated 1593.7 A small painting on copper by Ligozzi of The Dead Christ Adored by an Angel is particularly close to the present picture compositionally and stylistically.8

Crafted in a style typical of decorative items produced for European courts around 1600, the wood altarpiece that surrounds the painting is stained dark brown to resemble ebony, and is decorated with lapis lazuli columns, applied metal and enamel decorations, and inlays of metal, glass, and semiprecious stones.9 Although to date no similar altarpiece that can be firmly attributed to Ligozzi or his workshop has been found, there are clear stylistic parallels with Ligozzi's designs made for the Opificio delle Pietre Dure (founded in 1588), the Grand Ducal workshop that specialized in intricate mosaics and inlays of semiprecious stones. Works produced by the Opificio focus on natural motifs such as vines or foliage in their decoration, reflecting Ligozzi's work as a scientific draftsman for Cosimo I de'Medici. In the Oberlin piece, this naturalistic tendency is demonstrated in the pietre dure inlay in the lower register, surrounding the Sacrifice of Isaac plaque; and especially in the exuberant painted decoration on the carrying case for the altarpiece.

The painted decorations on the carrying case are generally accepted as by Ligozzi.10 The closed doors of the case are dominated by a painted oval containing the letters IHS (the Greek abbreviation for the name of Jesus), with a cross above and the sacred heart, pierced by the three nails of the Passion, below. This "plaque" is encircled by a garland of roses, tulips, lilies, and other flowers, an extension of the contemporary devotional practice of draping images with floral wreaths on feast and holy days; the painted garland bestows honor on the name of Jesus contained within.11 At the top of the doors, two winged putto heads flank the dove of the Holy Spirit. The bottom portion of the front of the case is filled with intricately scrolled acanthus and stylized floral motifs. A drawing of A Frieze of Cupids, Satyrs, and Monsters with Acanthus Tendrils, recently and convincingly attributed to Ligozzi, features foliated scrollwork and putto heads analogous to these elements in the Oberlin piece.12 Ligozzi's meticulous plant studies should also be cited in this context.13

Although it is not known for whom this portable altarpiece was created, the "IHS" monogram on the carrying case, which was also the popular monogram of the Jesuit order, suggests that the recipient may have been connected with that order. This idea is supported by both the iconography and the function of the altarpiece. The teachings of the Jesuit order strongly emphasized the veneration of images, especially if these devotions were also directed towards an intense, personal identification with Christ's Passion and suffering. Both the general theme of Christ's suffering, represented in Ligozzi's altarpiece by Christ on the Mount of Olives and its antitype, The Sacrifice of Isaac, and the inherent function of a portable altarpiece as an aid for private devotion, exactly coincide with the devotional priorities of the Jesuit order.

M. E. Wieseman

A prolific painter, draftsman, miniaturist, printmaker, and designer of decorative objects, Jacopo Ligozzi was the son of the Veronese painter Giovanni Ermanno Ligozzi (act. 1572-88; d. before 1605). Other members of the Ligozzi family were active as painters and designers of armor, tapestry, and embroidery. Around 1576 Jacopo went to Florence and entered the service of the Tuscan Grand Duke Francesco I de'Medici. Impressed by his detailed draftsmanship and abilities as a miniaturist, the Grand Duke employed Ligozzi primarily as a scientific draftsman between 1577 and 1591. Ligozzi joined the Accademia del Disegno in 1578, and in 1584 contributed to the decoration of several rooms in the Uffizi gallery. He became court painter to Francesco I in 1587, a position that made the most of his extraordinary versatility and immense productivity. He produced drawings of plants and animals, costume studies, and allegorical and religious scenes, as well as designs for glass objects, works in pietre dure, and festival and pageant decorations. Many of these highly finished drawings were intended as independent works of art. In the 1590s Ligozzi became more active as a painter; he produced altarpieces and frescoes for churches in Florence, Pisa, Bibbiena, and other cities, in addition to smaller private works. Between 1593, when he visited Verona and Mantua, and 1602, Ligozzi received several commissions from the Gonzaga court.

Jacopo Ligozzi's paintings were especially influential in transmitting the richer and more vibrantly colored Veronese style to Florentine painters active around 1600. Among Ligozzi's pupils was his son, Francesco (d. 1641).

General References
Bacci, Mina, and Anna Forlani Tempesti. Mostra di disegni di Jacopo Ligozzi. Exh. cat., Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe degli Uffizi, Florence, 1961.

Bacci, Mina. "Jacopo Ligozzi e la sua posizione nella pittura fiorentina." Proporzioni 4 (1963), pp. 46-84.

Collection Bauer, Vienna

With F. Kleinberger & Co., New York, from whom purchased in 1958

New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Columbia University, 1969. Florentine Baroque Art from American Collections. 16 April - 15 June. Cat. no. 3.

Bacci, Mina. "Jacopo Ligozzi e la sua posizione nella pittura fiorentina." Proporzioni 4 (1963), p. 84.

Bacci, Mina. "A Portable Altar by Ligozzi." Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 20, no. 2 (1962-63), pp. 47-55.

Stechow, Wolfgang. Catalogue of European and American Paintings and Sculpture in the Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College. Oberlin, 1967, pp. 99-100, fig. 43.

Askew, Pamela. "The Angelic Consolation of St. Francis of Assisi in Post-Tridentine Italian Painting." Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 32 (1969), p. 293, n. 55.

Nissman, Joan. In Florentine Baroque Art from American Collections. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Columbia University, New York, 1969, pp. 20-21, cat. no. 3.

Spear, Richard E. "Baroque Paintings from Ligozzi to Hogarth." Apollo 103, no. 168 (February 1976), p. 106.

González-Palacios, Alvar. Il Tempio del Gusto: Le Arti decorative in Italia fra classicismi e barocco. Milan, 1986, vol. 1, p. 65, n. 5; vol. 2, pp. 105-6, figs. 173-74.

Bacci, Mina. In Il Seicento fiorentino: Arte a Firenze da Ferdinando I a Cosimo III. Vol. 3. Exh. cat., Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, 1986-87, p. 105.

McCluer, Kate. "A Terracotta Relief of the Agony in the Garden by Massimiliano Soldani Benzi." Metropolitan Museum Journal 22 (1987), pp. 102-3.

Viatte, Françoise. Inventaire général des dessins italiens III: Dessins toscans XVIe-XVIIIe siècles. Vol. 3, 1560-1640. Paris, 1988, under no. 244.

González-Palacios, Alvar. In Splendori di pietre dure: L'Arte di corte nella Firenze dei granduchi. Edited by Annamaria Giusti. Exh. cat., Sala Bianca di Palazzo Pitti (Opificio delle Pietre Dure), Florence, 1988-89, p. 144.

Hagenmann, Marion. "Ein altarförmiges Weihwasserbecken mit Steinschnitten aus dem Besitz des Lothar Franz von Schönborn." Anzieger des Germanischen Nationalmuseums 1989 (Nuremberg, 1990), pp. 200-201.

Conigliello, Lucilla. In Jacopo Ligozzi: Le Vedute del Sacro Monte della Verna. I dipinti di Poppi e Bibbiena. Exh. cat., Castello dei conti Guidi, Poppi, 1992, pp. 34, 211.

Jaffé, Michael. The Devonshire Collection of Italian Drawings: Tuscan and Umbrian Schools. London, 1994, pp. 29, 65.

Chappell, Miles L. In The Dictionary of Art. Edited by Jane Turner. Vol. 19. London and New York, 1996, p. 374, ill.

Technical Data
The painting is in excellent condition. The copper panel has been covered with a thin white or light grey ground. Modeling, highlighting, and shading of forms have been done wet-in-wet; glazes have been used in shadowing on the drapery and the rocks at upper and lower left. There is some cupping of the paint in the lower right, and scattered pinpoint losses, most prevalent along the right edge.

The tabernacle is constructed of numerous pieces of wood, glued or doweled together. All surfaces have been stained a dark brown. Inlays include glass, gilded or lacquered metal, coral, lapis lazuli, mother-of-pearl, agate, and other semiprecious stones; agate and red glass inlays are backed with gold leaf. The central image is flanked by two columns with gilt metal capitals and bases, and shafts alternating strips of lapis lazuli and metal. Small enamel ornaments with fresh-water pearls surround the painting at regular intervals; several holes attest to missing ornaments. Two lead or silver putti with gilded wings and wreaths top the broken pediment. The wreath held by the putto on the proper left has been replaced.

The tabernacle is generally in good condition. There are minor losses to the inlay, and some of the existing inlay has cracked and been reglued. Some of the missing lapis on the proper left column has been filled with wood and inpainted. The large ornament (possibly a cross?)14 originally placed on the pedestal directly above the painting is also missing. There has been some insect damage to the wood, some cracking, and a few minor losses.

Carrying Case

The case is constructed of wood, joined with mortise and tenon or dovetail joins; two brass handles are affixed to the sides of the case. On the front, back, and sides of the case, mordant gilt and painted designs have been applied over a layer of black paint. A stencil was probably used for the continuous pattern of interlaced ribbons and foliage along the top and sides of the case. Gold leaf was used in the frame and decorative elements of the illusionistic lapis plaque on the front. The case is lined with red velvet, which has become slightly worn. Several horizontal splits or open joins in the central panels of the doors of the case have been filled with strips of wood and inpainted.

1. Tabernacle of wood, with metal (part gilded), enamel appliqués with pearls, and inlays of glass, coral, lapis lazuli, mother-of-pearl, agate, and other semiprecious stones; carrying case of wood with brass handles, lined with red velvet.

2. Tabernacle: 21 3/4 x 13 1/2 x 3 7/8 in. (55 x 34 x 8.4 cm) (H x W x D); case: 26 11/16 x 16 1/2 x 5 1/2 in. (67.8 x 41.8 x 14 cm) (H x W x D).

3. Mina Bacci, "A Portable Altar by Ligozzi," Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 20 (1962-63), p. 47 n. 1, reporting her search in the papers of the Guardaroba Medicea, in the Archivo di Stato, Florence.

4. Marion Hagenmann, "Ein altarförmiges Weihwasserbecken mit Steinschnitten aus dem Besitz des Lothar Franz von Schönborn," Anzieger des Germanischen Nationalmuseums 1989 (Nuremberg, 1990), p. 201 n. 29.

5. For discussions of the extended system of typological correspondences between Old and New Testament scenes developed by Peter Paul Rubens for the ceiling of the Jesuit Church in Antwerp--including the pairing of the Sacrifice of Isaac with the Crucifixion--see John Rupert Martin, The Ceiling Paintings for the Jesuit Church in Antwerp(Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard, part 1 [London, 1968]); and Julius S. Held, The Oil Sketches of Peter Paul Rubens, vol. 1 (Princeton, 1980), pp. 33-38.

6. Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett, inv. 15515; see Mina Bacci, "A Portable Altar by Ligozzi," Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 20 (1962-63), p. 55. Compare also drawings by the artist of the same subject in Hamburg (Kunsthalle, inv. 21.236) and Paris (Musée du Louvre, Cabinet des Dessins, inv. 5026). On the latter drawing (pen and brown ink, brown wash, with gold highlights, 33.7 x 44.8 cm), see Françoise Viatte, Inventaire général des dessins italiens III: Dessins toscans XVIe-XVIIIe siècles, vol. 3, 1560-1640(Paris, 1988), no. 244.

7. Oil on canvas, 35 x 23.5 cm, Florence, Convent of San Giovannino degli Scolopi; see Il Seicento fiorentino: Arte a Firenze da Ferdinando I a Cosimo III, vol. 1 (exh. cat., Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, 1997), pp. 93-95, no. 1.8.

8. Oil on copper, 24 x 19 cm, sale London (Sotheby's), 8 March 1972, lot 28.

9. Examples of similar works, each on the same small scale as the Oberlin piece, and thus also intended for private devotions, include a tabernacle with a font for holy water, made for Lothar Franz von Schönborn in the first third of the seventeenth century (Graf von Schönborn-Wiesentheid, Kunstsammlungen); see Marion Hagenmann, "Ein altarförmiges Weihwasserbecken mit Steinschnitten aus dem Besitz des Lothar Franz von Schönborn," Anzieger des Germanischen Nationalmuseums 1989[Nuremberg, 1990], esp. pp. 200-201); an elaborately decorated ebony altarpiece housing a relief by Annibale Fontana of The Flagellation of Christ, probably made in southern Germany about 1590 (London, Victoria and Albert Museum, inv. C.2464-1910); and an ebony altarpiece decorated with silver and pietre dure, housing a painting of the Adoration of the Magi on amethyst (Rome, Palazzo Pallavicini; see A. González-Palacios, in Splendori di pietre sure: L'Arte di corte nella Firenze dei granduchi [exh. cat., Sala Bianca di Palazzo Pitti (Opificio delle Pietre Dure), Florence, 1989], pp. 144-45, no. 29).

10. Confirmed by (among others) Detlef Heikamp, in correspondence dated 1962 (in the museum files).

11. On the development of this iconography during the Counter-Reformation, see David Freedberg, "The Origins and Rise of the Flemish Madonnas in Flower Garlands: Decoration and Devotion," Münchener Jahrbuch der bildenden Kunst 32 (1981), pp. 115-50.

12. Collection of the duke of Devonshire, Chatsworth; see Michael Jaffé, The Devonshire Collection of Italian Drawings: Tuscan and Umbrian Schools(London, 1994), pp. 29, 65, where the connection with the Oberlin piece is made. I am grateful to Richard Spear for drawing my attention to this reference.

13. For examples, see Mina Bacci and Anna Forlani Tempesti, Mostra di disegni di Jacopo Ligozzi(exh. cat., Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe degli Uffizi, Florence, 1961); and Lucia Tongiorgi Tomasi and Sara Feri, I ritratti di piante di Jacopo Ligozzi (Pisa, 1993).

14. When the piece was acquired by the museum, this pedestal was surmounted by a cross set with artificial rubies; the cross was not original to the piece and was subsequently removed.