This painting is a compositional oil sketch for an altarpiece commissioned in 1758 for the chapel of the Holy Sepulchre in the Santissima Trinità in the Lombard town of Crema. The patron, Rocco Orlandini (1688–1758), a wealthy Bergamesque parishioner, stipulated in his will the unusual iconography of an Entombment in which St. Joseph and St. Anthony of Padua were added to the usual participants. The parish priest, Don Antonio Gozzoni, recorded that ‘this canvas painted in Rome by the most famous Mr. Pompeo Gerolamo Batoni, with a value of 420 Roman scudi for this object alone, excepting the other costs. It came to be placed for public veneration in the year 1762’. The painting was installed in a dramatic black and white marble altar carved by the Milanese sculptor Ambrogio Pedretti in 1761.
The circumstances of this commission are not known to us although Batoni had already painted a major altarpiece for a church in nearby Brescia over ten years earlier in 1746. Crema is an ancient city and seat of a bishopric; however, it is a relatively minor Lombard town which was part of the languishing Venetian Republic when this painting was commissioned. The flamboyantly Baroque church we see now was entirely remodeled in 1739 by the Veneto architect Andrea Nono and the installation of Batoni’s altarpiece was evidently part of a mid-18th-century program which included the completion of two other altarpieces in the same decade.
This spirited sketch is typical of the way Batoni embarked on such commissions. He would first make preparatory drawings—in this case one survives for the Three Maries (Musée des Beaux Arts et Archéologie, Besançon, D1013) and another for St. Anthony of Padua (Pinacoteca di Brera, 554). This would be followed by a compositional study in oil and then, perhaps, by a larger, more finished modello. A famous example of this is the Virgin and Child and St. John Nepomukin the Vatican, which could have functioned as a presentation piece for the patrons of the altarpiece—in that case, the one Batoni painted for the Oratorian church of S. Maria della Pace, Brescia in 1746.
This Entombment sketch is rapidly painted, with dramatic contrasts in light and shade, angular features and deeply hollowed eyes, as if rapidly carved with a knife in wet clay. Other oil sketches comparable in style to our canvas include two smaller studies for both sides of the standard in S. Eligio dei Ferrari of 1748–50. A larger, more finished canvas (78 x 51.7 cm) of the Entombment in the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio, Lucca was published as the modello for the Crema altarpiece (Anthony M. Clark and Edgar Peters Bowron, Pompeo Batoni Complete Catalogue, 1985, p. 280, no. 232, plate 216) but with the discovery of this sketch is now thought to be an old copy.
Anthony Clark owned a small sketch on copper by Batoni depicting The Virgin and Child Appearing to St. Camillo de Lellis (Bowron, op. cit., p. 93, no. 79).❖