Raffaellino del Garbo, Lamentation of Christ, ca. 1500

Poplar wood, 187,5 x 196,7 cm

© Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Munich,
photo: Sibylle Forster



Alte Pinakothek
All Eyes On | Room IV


The powerful, harmonious colouring of Raffaellino del Garbo’s ‘Lamentation of Christ’ finally reveals its full effect once more, following full restoration. The altarpiece, created around 1500 for the Nasi family chapel in S. Spirito, is a major work by the Florentine master, with which he emerges from the shadow of his more prominent colleagues. It has rarely appeared in the gallery in recent decades due to its problematic condition. The art-historical and technical research into the painting, acquired by King Ludwig I in 1829, provided the impetus for the restoration efforts made possible by the Ernst von Siemens Kunststiftung. Now their remarkable results can be seen first-hand, and Raffaellino’s work is presented in dialogue with altarpieces by his role models Pietro Perugino and Filippino Lippi.

ALL EYES ON highlights a work or group of works, a significant artist personality or artistic position, guest appearances by individual loans, important restorations, or new acquisitions in the midst of the gallery. The artistic as well as technical qualities of the paintings, their content and significance, their history of creation and impact, and their creators are illuminated in the context of the collection. This opens up new, current perspectives and diverse insights into the research work at the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen.

The New Power of Colour

In March of 1829, King Ludwig I of Bavaria paid a handsome sum to acquire two altarpieces from the Florentine art dealer Carlo del Chiaro: Raffaellino del Garbo’s Lamentation of Christ, attributed in Munich to Domenico Ghirlandaio until the late 19th century, and Pietro Perugino’s Vision of St. Bernhard. Due to its poor condition, Raffaellino’s painting has – unlike Perugino’s highly-regarded work – rarely been on view in the museum in recent decades. Thanks to extensive conservation-restoration work, it has now been rehabilitated for permanent display.  

The celebrated artists’ biographer Giorgio Vasari (1511–1574) already documented Raffaellino’s authorship of this panel painting, which was made for the Nasi family chapel in San Spirito. Vasari correctly recognized it as one of the finest works by this artist, who had been trained by Filippino Lippi (1457–1504). Completed around 1500, the Lamentation captivates viewers through the quality of its colours and painting technique. It also illustrates the intensity with which Raffaellino studied the work of his Umbrian colleague Perugino, so esteemed in Florence. Besides the harmonious colours and tranquil figural composition set before an expansive landscape, there are noticeable motivic parallels with Perugino’s pictorial inventions: Christ’s rigid body, which lies across the Virgin Mary’s lap, and the symmetrical arrangement of the four saints are essential traits of a Lamentation created by Perugino in the 1490s for San Giusto in Florence with a pietà based on northern models as its iconic centre.   

The ambitiousness and meticulous care with which Raffaellino executed the strikingly realistic figures and the detailed composition of the background – clearly indebted to the example of early Netherlandish painting – is explained by his desire to rival altarpieces created just a few years earlier by Piero di Cosimo and Filippino Lippi for the chapels of the Capponi and Nerli families, which neighboured the Nasi family chapel. Raffaellino’s panel was an element of the pictorial programme of the sixth chapel in the southern transept of San Spirito, provided for in the testament of Bartolommeo Lutozzi Nasi. The chapel pictures were commissioned by Bernardo and Filippo Nasi, brothers of the donor, who by this time was already long-dead, having died in 1487. Up above, angels bear the instruments of the Passion while below them mourners gather – among them, St. James, a reference to Jacopo Nasi, the brothers’ father, and John the Baptist, the city’s patron saint, who recalls Giovanni Battista Nasi, their uncle. Raffaellino depicts the kneeling figure of John Evangelist and Mary Magdalene with tear-drenched faces, striving – as with the drastic portrayal of Christ’s corpse – to evoke the viewer’s pity. With the burning rocks at the right-hand edge of the picture and the gaping chasm set behind the protagonists, Raffaellino makes an unusual reference to the events of the Passion, as described in the Gospel of St. Matthew, which states that following the death of Jesus “the earth did quake, and the rocks rent” (Matthew 27:52). 

Artistic Rivalry

Raffaellino del Garbo, Lamentation of Christ, c. 1500, Munich, Alte Pinakothek

Raffaellino’s Lamentation of Christ, painted around 1500, is a major work from the artist’s mature period. Very few stylistic traits, among them the fluttering robes of the angels and the intricate play of the drapery folds in the saints’ cloaks, still bear witness to the strong influence of his erstwhile teacher Filippino Lippi. The expressive gestures of Saint James and Saint John and, perhaps even more so, the striking colours of the painting attest to the growing independence of Raffaellino’s art. Cool tones of blue and violet converge with passages of strong red and green to form a harmonious balance of colour that underpins the calm symmetry of the composition. This clarity of structure, the concentration on a few figures united in quiet devotion and the shimmering water and hazy blue of the mountain ranges in the background reveal how closely Raffaellino studied the works of his Umbrian colleague Pietro Perugino.

The stylistic affinity to Perugino’s devotional paintings reflects the preferences of Raffaellino’s patrons. Following the ideas of the penitential preacher Girolamo Savonarola, they favoured the maniera devota, a visual language believed to inspire intense piety. This explains poignant details like the rigid corpse of Christ, the bleeding stigmata, and the tear-stained faces of Mary and the kneeling saints, John the Evangelist and Mary Magdalene, which were designed to rouse the viewer’s pity and empathy (compassio). At the same time, the motif of tears showcased the artist’s consummate mastery of the oil technique and would have been understood as a clear reference to early Netherlandish painting, which was much admired in Florence at the time. Raffaellino even furnished the Northern-looking city in the background of the picture, which is supposed to represent Jerusalem, with two architectural elements lifted directly from Rogier van der Weyden’s Entombment of Christ, which was owned by the Medici.

The commission for the Cappella Nasi in the church of Santo Spirito in Florence gave Raffaellino an opportunity to pit his work against that of his teacher Filippino Lippi and his contemporary Piero di Cosimo and to foreground his own ability to adapt early Netherlandish models. A few years earlier, the two masters had produced very ambitious altarpieces for the chapels of the Capponi and Nerli families, which flank that of the Nasi in Santo Spirito. These works allowed both artists to demonstrate their confidence in handling the motifs and painting technique they had found in the art of the ‘fiamminghi’ (Piero di Cosimo, Visitation, c. 1489/90, Washington, National Gallery of Art). With their commission, the Nasi brothers evidently sought to complement and rival the masterpieces on either side of their family chapel and to demonstrate their exquisite taste and connoisseurship. The choice of Raffaellino del Garbo may have been influenced by the Capponi, to whom the Nasi were related and who had adopted the artist in 1481.

The Iconography of the Lamentation

Sandro Botticelli, Lamentation of Christ, c. 1490/95, Munich, Alte Pinakothek

In Florence, it was customary to refer to large-scale, multifigure compositions of the Lamentation of Christ as ‘pietà’ – and it was as such that Giorgio Vasari, too, described Raffaellino’s painting. The title ‘pietà’ reflects the fact that paintings thus identified focus on Mary cradling the dead Christ on her lap and are close to the Northern tradition of Vesperbild sculptures and to early Netherlandish paintings of the same motif. In Florence, the apocryphal event of the lamentation, situated between the descent from the cross and the entombment, was the subject of a remarkably large number of altarpieces in the last quarter of the 15th century. In the manner of a sacra conversazione, these lamentation scenes tend to be populated with attendant saints whose presence has no direct bearing on the pictorial narrative. Nevertheless, these works are part of a clear iconographic tradition of representations of the lamentation of Christ that expand on the event of the entombment. They offer the viewer a powerful image to meditate on and to contemplate the events of the Passion. Unlike, for example, Botticelli’s Munich Lamentation of Christ, Raffaellino’s painting is conducive to this meditative approach in that it tones down ostentatious expressions and gestures of grief and mourning in favour of foregrounding the dignified composure and quiet sorrow of those gathered. However, as in Perugino’s altarpiece for San Giusto in Florence, the corpse of Christ is presented in a rather more dramatic manner. According to Vasari’s description, the rigidity of the body visualizes the long period of time that the dead Christ remained on the cross, exposed to the cold.

The central pietà group is flanked by Saints John the Evangelist and Mary Magdalene. Kneeling, they support the shoulders and feet of Christ. Their profound reverence finds expression in the fact that neither of them touches the Corpus Christi directly. Behind them are Saint John the Baptist and Saint James, who cannot be associated with the historical event, but are included as patron saints of important members of the Nasi family. Hovering on cloudbanks above the lamentation group are three angels presenting the arma Christi, the instruments of the Passion – another pictorial idea that very probably goes back to early Netherlandish models.


Outline drawing after the head of Mary in the Vision of St. Bernard by Perugino (left) and after the head of Mary in the Lamentation of Christ by Raffaellino del Garbo (right), c. 1828, Munich, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen

In the opening decades of the 19th century, advised by his gallery director Johann Georg von Dillis and aided by an agent with eyes on the art market in Florence, Ludwig I was able to acquire numerous Florentine paintings from the 14th to 16th century – Raffaellino’s altarpiece stands at the end of this series of purchases.

In 1647, the Lamentation was moved to the Capponi family palazzo in Florence. In his will of 1637, Francesco di Lorenzo Nasi had decreed that the painting commissioned for the Nasi family chapel in Santo Spirito should be replaced with Pietro Perugino’s Vision of Saint Bernard, originally painted for the Nasi chapel in Santa Maria di Cestello (now Santa Maria Maddalena dei Pazzi). Ortensia Capponi, Nasi’s sister and heir, had Raffaellino’s panel removed from the altar in Santo Spirito in April 1647 and moved to Palazzo Capponi. Contrary to her brother’s wishes, she decided to keep hold of the valuable Perugino altarpiece. Instead of the original, a copy was installed in Santo Spirito in 1651.

So it came that in 1826 the Florentine art dealer Carlo del Chiaro, who was charged with the sale of the art collection of the Marchese Capponi, was able to offer both altarpieces to Johann Metzger, the agent working for Ludwig I. Despite the high asking price of 2,400 Louis d’or, Metzger urged Johann Georg von Dillis to acquire the ‘two major pictures’ for the ‘royal gallery’, but his entreaties initially fell on deaf ears in Munich. Undeterred, Metzger resumed his campaign for the purchase of the two panels in April 1827, arguing that there was a gap in the collection of Italian paintings: ‘I know and hear that the Royal Galleria in Munich is already the first in German and Dutch masters, and can only be further exalted by Italian works.’

To whet Ludwig’s appetite, del Chiaro sent Metzger two drawings that picked out the head of the Virgin in each of the paintings (fig. 6). In his accompanying letter, the art dealer emphasized how clearly the drawings reflected the paintings’ close proximity to works by Raphael. Metzger sent the drawings on to Munich, warning that there now was competition from other interested parties. He reported that Carl Friedrich von Rumohr was considering a purchase for the collection of the Berlin Gemäldegalerie, then still in its advanced planning stages.

During the negotiations, which lasted until March 1829, the vendor agreed to a small reduction of the purchase price. The two panel paintings arrived in Munich in April 1829. The Lamentation, acquired for the king’s private picture collection and paid for out of the ‘Hofkassa’ (royal purse), was first taken to Schleißheim Palace before being put on display in the Alte Pinakothek when the gallery opened in 1836.

Figure 1: Blood drops, tears, and raindrops
Figure 2: Ornamental design with powdered gold and ochre pigments
Figure 3: Alterations in the composition at all stages of the painting’s creation, made visible in an infrared reflectograph and macro-XRF
Photos: Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Doerner Institut

Technical Analysis

More than five hundred years after this panel painting was created, we can now trace the exact materials and techniques that went into its making. With the help of modern technical analysis, it has been possible to identify both individual traits in Raffaellino del Garbo’s practice and also many parallels to common workshop methods of his time. The high quality of execution, evident in even the smallest details, is already visible to the naked eye. For example, the artist even went to great lengths in painting the complex motif of teardrops and other droplet forms, despite knowing that most viewers would be unable to discern them at such a small scale from afar. Besides the well-modelled and convincingly real drops of blood and tears, if one takes a very close look, one notices droplets of rain forming in the clouds. (Figure 1)

Raffaellino was able to achieve such extraordinary sophistication and detail through his skilful handling of the materials and use of high-quality and precious pigments and dyestuffs. He used ultramarine and different red scale insect dyestuffs, in a variety of admixtures and layers, and combined them with more readily available pigments such as ochre and vermilion. In a skilfully layered application of colour, he succeeded in enriching the colour spectrum of his painting and achieving a strikingly nuanced palette. He also worked with optical illusions: for example, the decorative trim on the cloaks and mantles appears golden. Many such details were in fact made with ochre but their visual effect is almost the same as the patterns painted with real powdered gold. (Figure 2)

Imaging and analytical techniques such as infrared reflectography or macro X-ray fluorescence scanning (macro-XRF) made it possible to gain insights into the step-by-step genesis of the painting. Pentimenti and revisions can be found in all phases of the work’s creation. Even in the underdrawing – the laying out of the composition on the prepared surface of wood – we have evidence of outlines and certain motifs being discarded and revised. One such example is the position of the cross carried by an angel. It was underdrawn and then redrawn more than once. The artist made repeated adjustments during the painting stage and laying in of colour, too. Among other things, Christ’s crown of thorns, which was already well worked-up and near completion, was abandoned and painted over with passages of skin and hair. (Figure 3)

Figure 4: Historical documentation of earlier restoration from 1879, Photo: Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Doerner Institut
Figure 5: Microscope image of cupping – cup-shaped curling in paint layers, Photo: Dipl. Rest. Carolin Vogt
Figure 6: Detail before and after conservation and restoration; left in raking light, right in normal light, Photo: Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Doerner Institut

Conservation and Restoration

The painting has a long history of restoration, with the earliest documented intervention dating from the 19th century. Even by 1879, the losses in adhesion between the paint layers – a problem that would continue to vex conservators until recent times – posed a serious problem and motivated large-scale conservation and restoration treatments. Current studies have showed that the problematic state of preservation has its origin in the unfortunate structural composition of the ground layer. (Figure 4)

The production process of Raffaellino’s altarpiece matches the typical workshop practice of the time: First, a ground layer was applied, in this case to an eight-board panel of poplar wood. In the next stage, the underdrawing, the pictorial composition was then laid out on the ground. Then came the painterly execution in various layers of colour. The final layer of material added was a protective coating, the varnish, which lent the colours both luminosity and depth. As the many different layers dried out, differences in tension resulted in the slow formation of a dense craquelure over the entire surface of the painting. This is part of the natural ageing process and usually presents few problems. In the case of this painting, however, the unstable composition of the ground layer presented a risk to the preservation of the whole. The ground is porous, with insufficient adhesion, internally and with the paint layers above. Cupping occurred, resulting in natural cracks in the surface curling up in cup-like formations, leading to losses of material. (Figure 5)

Many of the subsequent losses were filled in and retouched during earlier restorations. The main focus of the latest conservation and restoration treatments was to consolidate the material – above all by strengthening the bonds between the paint layers that had deteriorated to a serious degree. To be able to apply the bonding agent effectively, the earlier infills, retouchings, and overpainting – some of which were applied over large areas – had to be removed, along with old discoloured varnish layers. One other positive effect of removing these later layers was that the painting’s original luminosity was no longer obscured and is visible once again. After the consolidation was completed, the fills to the layers of the painting were levelled and textured. A thin coat of protective varnish was then applied to refresh the surface and seal the fills. (Figure 6)

The treatments took place between 2018 and 2020 and were made possible by the generous support of the Ernst von Siemens Kunststiftung.

Figure 7: Microscope images of layers mixed and overlaid with red lake
Figure 8: Removing the blackout fabric before commencing a treatment
Figure 9: Taking a colour-change measurement with ongoing light monitoring at the left edge of the picture
Photos: Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Doerner Institut

Preventative Conservation

Standing in front of Raffaellino’s Lamentation of Christ, one is immediately struck by the fact that the luminosity of the over five-hundred-year-old panel painting is extraordinarily intense. As described above, this is largely due to the outstanding quality of the pigments and dyestuffs used and their masterful handling by the artist. Another major reason why the colours of this altarpiece still seem so brilliant, however, is the relative lack of light-ageing in the red lake glazes – nowadays typically found in more advanced states of fading or degradation and usually reduced to tones of pale pink in paintings of this age.(Figure 7)

Due to the light-sensitivity of these red passages, great care was taken to ensure that only the areas being treated at any given moment were exposed to the light levels required by conservators while working on the painting. Strips of blackout fabric were suspended over all other areas to protect them from unnecessary light exposure. (Figure 8)

In order to pre-emptively detect any possible gradual fading of the light-sensitive red lake, the colour values of these parts of the picture are analysed, documented, and evaluated at regular intervals. At the same time, light exposure levels were constantly monitored throughout the conservation and restoration. Even while on display in the current presentation in the Alte Pinakothek, these light and colour-change measurements continue unbeknownst to most visitors. Should any colour changes occur, further steps to reduce light exposure will be taken in order to preserve the altarpiece’s impressively vibrant colours in the best way possible for future generations. (Figure 9)