Artibus et Historiae no. 68 (XXXIV)2013, ISSN 0391-9064
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ANDREA BAYER, MICHAEL GALLAGHER and SILVIA CENTENO - Jacopo Bassano’s Baptism of Christ (pp. 83-103)
Jacopo Bassano’s last altarpiece, the Baptism of Christ, has recently entered the collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The painting was left in the artist’s studio at his death, and listed in the inventory drawn up in 1592 as ‘una Tavola d’altare sbozzata’ (Ridolfi, writing in 1648, used the term ‘non finita’ to describe it). It was kept by the family until 1673, and only then did they sell it to another family from Bassano, with whom it remained until late in the following century. Re-discovered in the 1930s, it has since been recognized as one of the most moving and personal of Jacopo’s late works, deviating from tradition both in its nocturnal setting and dramatic sense of foreboding.
As the Baptism has just undergone cleaning and conservation, as well as a technical examination including infra-red reflectography, X-radiography, and pigment analysis under the direction of Michael Gallagher (Chair, Department of Paintings Conservation), this is a propitious moment to look at it again, reassessing Bassano’s approach to the subject and the altarpiece’s place within the artist’s later career. Cleaning and treatment have confirmed the extraordinary, painterly quality of the work, leading to significant new observations about his technique and the issue of ‘non finito’ in his late paintings.