The Crucifixion by Lorenzo Lotto

Lorenzo Lotto

The Crucifixion, 1531, Oil on wood, 450 x 250 cm, S. Maria della Pietà in Telusiano, Monte San Giusto, Italy, © DeA Picture Library / Art Resource, NY

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Non Stabat Mater

Commentary by

This painting is one of the greatest works of Lorenzo Lotto: the main altarpiece in the Church of Santa Maria della Pietà in the small hilltop town of Monte San Giusto in the Italian Marche. It is clearly visible as soon as you enter the Church. I have only seen it twice in my life and on both occasions I was quite alone with this overwhelming work.

In all the books on Lotto, this is described as a painting of the Crucifixion which is of course correct—or at least not incorrect. It is a narrative painting like that by Jacopo di Cione (elsewhere in this exhibition) and includes many episodes, in this case notably including the man charged with piercing Christ’s side (whom tradition names Longinus), who is healed of his blindness by a spurt of blood from Christ’s side. But if it is to be given a title it should surely be The Swooning of the Virgin Mary.

She is the foremost figure and among the largest, whereas her crucified son is among the smallest and most distant. Moreover, the donor who commissioned the painting is included in it, kneeling on the left looking not at Christ but at the terrible spectacle of Mary’s suffering—also catching the eye of St John who is brilliantly attired in scarlet and green. John is now no longer separate from the Virgin Mary but supports her.

The church is dedicated to Santa Maria della Pietà. The Pietà usually refers to images of the Virgin Mary with the dead Christ on her lap but the Swooning of the Virgin was often identified with the Pietà. Mary faces us so we can witness her grief but there is a suggestion that she has turned as she collapses. She has not yet fallen to the ground although it is impossible to believe that she can be stopped. Her arms are held out so that she herself assumes a crucified pose and the purply black and white of her garments bring the miraculous darkening of the sky—darkness which begins to cover the top of the cross—into the lower and nearer parts of the painting.

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