Lamentation over the Body of Christ

Christ’s body has been removed from the cross and laid on a tomb. A basket in the foreground contains the crown of thorns and purple robe with which he was mocked on the way to his crucifixion. Mary Magdalene tenderly examines his wounds by the light of an angel’s torch.

This moving image was painted on touchstone, a smooth black stone on which gold or silver could be rubbed to test their purity. The stone’s dark unpainted surface contrasts with the brightly lit figures, enhancing the drama of the scene.

This small, exquisite picture was painted directly onto touchstone (pietro di paragone in Italian), a kind of jasper that gold and silver craftsmen used to test alloys and precious metals. Its surface is shiny, smooth, and dark. The deep black of the stone—left deliberately unpainted behind the figures—makes a particularly appropriate backdrop for this dramatic nocturnal scene.

Christ’s dead body has been taken down from the cross and laid on a tomb draped with a shroud.  Mary Magdalene, identified by her revealing clothing and the ointment jar at her feet, tenderly holds Christ’s left hand as she examines its wound. At the lower left, a small kneeling angel holds a basket containing the purple robe and crown of thorns with which Christ was mocked. The figures are illuminated by the flaming torch held by the second angel on the right, its glow adding to the sense of pathos.

The artist Alessandro Turchi was from Verona, where he trained in the studio of a minor painter, Felice Brusasorci. After his master’s death, Turchi lived briefly in Venice, and then settled in Rome shortly before this picture was painted. In Rome, Turchi painted primarily religious and mythological scenes, blending the two main artistic currents of the early seventeenth century. In this image, the figures are painted in the idealized, Classical style of Annibale Carraci while the drama of the narrative is enhanced by the contrasts of light and shadow (known as chiaroscuro), pioneered by Caravaggio. Turchi’s frequent use of unusual surfaces, like copper, slate, marble, or touchstone, gave his paintings a precious quality much prized by connoisseurs. Although we do not yet know the exact details of the commission, this picture was almost certainly made for a private collector in Rome as a personal devotional object.

Alessandro Turchi

Italian, 1578–1649

Lamentation over the Body of Christ

c. 1645–50

Oil on touchstone

9 13/16 × 13 3/4 in. (25 × 35 cm)

Acquired by the Clark, 2011