- Museum number
The dead Christ, study for a painting; whole-length, lying with feet at left foreground, with a separate study of the left hand and left foot. c.1648-49
- Production date
Height: 263 millimetres
Width: 347 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- Lit.: N. Turner, 'Italian Drawings in the BM, Roman Baroque Drawings', London, 1999, I, no. 316
This study, almost certainly from life, is for the dead Christ in the 'Prophecy of Basilides', a composition on which Testa was at work towards the end of his life and which is known from versions in different media. One is a painting, datable 1648-9, in the Capodimonte, Naples (Cropper, 1984, p. 60, fig.77; Philadelphia and Cambridge, Mass., 1988-9, p. 239), almost certainly carried out for Giovanni Antonio Filippini, Prior of S. Martino ai Monti, Rome. Another is the preparatory drawing for this painting in the Bloxam Collection, Rugby School Art Museum (Boase, 1939, p. 111; Philadelphia and Cambridge, Mass., 1988-9, no. 110), with Testa's notes for the enlargement of the design. A third is an etching by the artist's nephew Giovanni Cesare Testa (before 1640-55) done after the Rugby drawing and reproducing it in the same direction, with the inscription: "Disegno di Pietro Testa la cui pittura originale si conserva in S. Martino di Monti in Roma" (Philadelphia and Cambridge, Mass., 1988-9, no. 111). (Finally, there is a fresco of the subject by Gaspard Dughet in S. Martino ai Monti (see Boase, 1939, pl. 21A; Bandes, 1976, pp. 45-8 and 51-3).
The British Museum drawing was probably conceived as a study for the Naples painting. Left of centre of the sheet is a vestige of a right forearm and elbow (the right hand is concealed by a cloth) that raises the shroud on which Christ's body lies. This arm is that of the boy angel who stands on his own behind Christ's body in the picture and who pulls back the cloth to reveal Christ's body to Basilides. Christ's right arm was, however, entirely omitted from the painting and was replaced by the area of deep shadow cast by the shrouds.
In Testa's interpretation of the entire composition, the priest Basilides, who is accompanied by the emperor Titus, kneels in prayer before an altar on Mount Carmel, while in front of him appears a vision of Justice who points out to him the dead Christ carried by angels (the significance of the subject from the point of view of the Carmelite Order is fully discussed by Cropper in Philadelphia and Cambridge, Mass., 1988-9, p. 241).
The figure in the British Museum drawing also reappears in an etching by Giovanni Cesare Testa of the 'Dead Christ Accompanied by Two Winged Angels', though in reverse and on a smaller scale (Philadelphia and Cambridge, Mass., 1988-9, no. 112; there is an impression of the print in the Department of Prints and Drawings, inv. no. v.10-126). Although Giovanni Cesare's print was conceived as an independent work, it is clearly an offshoot of the 'Prophecy of Basilides' composition and was almost certainly executed shortly after his uncle's death (the print is inscribed: "Pietro Testa Inv"). Cropper (in Philadelphia and Cambridge, Mass., 1988-9, p. 242) supported the connections between the British Museum drawing and the print, and it is worth pointing out that Christ's right hand (left in the print) resting limply on his thigh, is there repeated, a detail that is absent from all the other renderings of the figure.
Literature: Boase, 1939, p. 112, n. 1; Marabottini, 1954, p. 117, n. 2; Harris, 1967, p. 51, n. 19, pl. 45b; Philadelphia and Cambridge, Mass., 1988-9, p. 239, under no. 110, and p. 242, under no. 112.
- Not on display
- Acquisition date
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Miscellaneous number: FAWK,5210.13