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Episodes from the Passion of Jesus

before 1597


Bartolomeo Cesi (1566 – 1629), Jesus prays in the garden, Crucifixion, Deposition; before 1597. Size 247 x 585 cm. Bologna, church of San Girolamo della Certosa, Main chapel.

The three pictures undoubtedly are Cesi’s absolute masterpiece, as well as one of the best, lofty examples of late 16th century European painting. It is not possible to describe here the intellectual complexity from which they stem. Suffice it to think that, thanks to the exact date of execution that was assigned to them after the studies carried out in view of their restoration, their influence is now clearly ascertained on some artists of subsequent generations, such as Guido Reni, Giovanni Francesco Barbieri known as Guercino, and Giacomo Cavedone. The three canvases were produced for the high altar and belong to a wider-ranging ornamental project including stuccoes and frescoes. The whole holy ornamental ensemble, so plentiful and kept in place, is the most important surviving example of a basic period of Bolognese art, during which the artistic revolution epitomized by the Carraccis got underway.

The restoration | Ottorino Nonfarmale restored the three paintings in two different periods. First, he worked on the canvas positioned in the middle, i.e. the Crucifixion, and then, in 2006, on the two paintings hanging on the sidewalls. Restoration works revived in full these three masterpieces that were by then almost totally dulled in their colors and close to illegible in some sections. The central picture presented no serious problems during its recovery, although the canvas had got loose from the frame and a layer of grime had darkened the colors. From the scaffolding installed to move them, Jesus Prays in the Garden and the Deposition, immediately appeared more heavily damaged than it was thought. The pictorial surface was for the most part detached from the canvas and the color had lifted in many points. After a number of difficult consolidating operations that were carried out inside the church, it was possible to take the canvases to the restorer’s laboratory in view of the subsequent recovery of their dazzling beauty. Some new details also surfaced, such as the scene in which Jesus is apprehended, in Jesus Prays in the Garden, and a landscape with a sky lying behind in the Deposition. Before restoration, these paintings were considered as some of the weakest that Cesi had produced during his career – after restoration, they came out as two true masterpieces of European painting.

Bartolomeo Cesi (1566 – 1629) | He trained in Nosadella’s studio and soon achieved renown in the crowded Bolognese artistic milieu, thanks to the number of commissions he was assigned by the religious Orders in town. When, as early as 1582, the three Carraccis began advancing their new and revolutionary artistic language, based on their studies on “affections” and “truth”, Bartolomeo Cesi was an already successful artist. The three large paintings at the Certosa follow other works carried out for the same religious Order. He realized a large quantity of fresco decorations in the convent, of which several fragments remain, among which two frescoes, one in place and the other one hosted by the city gallery. Cesi was not indifferent to the revolution that Annibale, Ludovico and Agostino Carracci brought to the world of art and spread throughout Europe. In fact, both the Certosa paintings and all his subsequent works showed a sort of “adjustment” to the new artistic culture although he never betrayed his own pictorial language. He kept receiving appointments by the major Bolognese and non-Bolognese religious Orders and in fact there is evidence of some travels to Tuscany to realize frescoed and painted series of artworks.