Guido Mazzoni´s Compianto su Cristo morto 1492

Compianto su Cristo morto, Guido Mazzoni, 1492, commissioned by Alfonso Duke of Calabriaat Santa Maria Di Monteoliveto (today Sant´Anna dei Lombardi), Naples.

Guido Mazzoni (1459-1518) was a well established Ferrarese artist whose life-size terracotta sculpture were popular among patrons. Mazzoni made a total of at least six sculptures of the Lamentation, a frequent theme in devotional art of the fifteenth century. the moment of grief between Jesus´s crucifixion and his entombment is shown. Mazzoni´s fame was in part due to his skills working with terracota, a material that despite being less noble than marble,  allowed a very realistic effect in the depiction of the emotions of the characters and that once the color was applied resulted in what Vasari described as great vivacity.  

The realism achieved by Mazzoni´s sculptures was enhanced by their arrangement in space and their gestures, which make them appear as a frozen scene of a passion play of the time.  Originally these groups of sculptures were open to the public who had the possibility of interacting with them, in the same way spectators were invited to respond to the action performed by actors in passion plays since the Middle Ages.  The fact that these sculptures were part of funerary monuments is related to the theatricality of funerary practices of Quattrocento Italy, where through catharsis triggered by different artworks, people both dealt with the loss of a loved one and got closer to God by sharing the grief felt by the early Christians.  

The Mazzoni group can be seen within portraiture art in the Early Modern Period in Italy, where patrons were depicted as exemplar figures and a model for society.  This societal role of art aligns with Alberti´s treatises, were people in positions of power should be examples to society and whose grandeur was demonstrated through the magnificence of the works they commissioned. At the same time, the Lamentation in Naples is an example of the kind of portraits made before Trent, where the patron was included within a sacred scene as being part of it.  Yet in Mazzoni´s Lamentations patrons can be identified by their modern attire.  In the Naples group specifically there is also a physical separation between the donors and the sacred figures where the former appear in the foreground and the later in the background.

Besides the theme of portraits of donors there are two other aspects of this sculpture that are interesting for our project.  We have seen the transfer of artists from other parts of Italy to the south as a consequence of the Spanish presence in Italy, of which Mazzoni is another example.  However, this transfer from the north to the south doesn't stop there, it extended to other parts of Europe as well.  When Charles VIII took Naples from the Spanish, he took Mazzoni to France with him.  So if we could argue that the Spanish patrons in Naples fostered exchanges between artists from the north and south of Italy and also constituted the door for these artist  to reach other places in Europe. A second aspect particular interest to us is the agency of women in commissioning works in the Spanish territories of Italy.  In the case of Mazzoni´s Lamentation it was Eleonora D´Este, duchess of Ferrara and sister of Alfonso II who was in charge of the commission of Mazzoni´s Lamentation for Modena and the one who most likely influenced Alfonso´s decision to hire Mazzoni for his portrait.