Art, Art History, Art Museums, Auction Sales, Looted Art

Looted 16th-Century Masterpiece to go to Auction: Girolamo Romanino’s “Christ Carrying the Cross”


“Christ Carrying the Cross,” Restituted to the Heirs of Federico Gentili di Giuseppe, Will Lead Christie’s Old Master Paintings Auction in New York on June 6.


A magnificent picture of Christ Carrying the Cross is a masterpiece of Girolamo Romanino’s fully mature style and among the most potent and moving depictions of the theme in 16th-century Italian art. The painting will highlight Christie’s Old Master Paintings sale on June 6 in New York, and is estimated at $2,500,000-3,500,000.

GIROLAMO ROMANINO (Brescia 1484/87-1560)
Christ Carrying the Cross Dragged by a Rogue
Estimate: $2,500,000-3,500,000




[] Thanks to a sharp-eyed lawyer and a lax Italian museum, a highly important 16th-century painting of Christ Carrying the Cross Dragged by a Rogue, by the Brescian master Girolamo Romanino (ca. 1484/8-ca. 1560), looted by the Nazis in World War II, has been returned to the family of its original owner. The picture had belonged to Federico Gentili di Giuseppe, an Italian Jew who had settled in France. He died in 1941, just months before the Nazi army invaded France.

Aware of the impending catastrophe, Gentili’s children and grandchildren fled the country, escaping to Canada and the United States. Other family members died in concentration camps.

The Gentili collection was plundered by the invaders and disposed of via a series of Paris sales in 1942, with several of the works finding their way to museums. Notable among them were two beautiful paintings by Giovanni Battista TiepoloApelles painting the Portrait of Campaspe, acquired by the Louvre in 1950, and a sparkling sketch of Rinaldo Abandoning Armida, acquired by the Berlin Gemäldegalerie from Cailleux, Paris, in 1979 for $400,000 as a mate to a companion picture it already owned.

In 1999, a French Court of Appeals forced the Louvre to return the Tiepolo and four other works to the Gentili grandchildren, ruling that the auction of the Gentili estate in Nazi-occupied France was an illegal forced sale and a “nullity.” Shortly afterwards, the Berlin Museum followed suit. The following year, the Gentili heirs sold both pictures at Christie’s New York, where the J. Paul Getty Museum purchased the Apelles for $2 million (est. $1.5 million-$2 million) and the Berlin Museum decided to buy back the  Rinaldo for $950,000 (est. $600,000-$800,000).

In 1998, the Romanino was acquired (with full knowledge of its recent history) by the Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan. The Italian government proved much less cooperative than the French and Germans, repeatedly dismissing the Gentili restitution claim. In 2004, Brera lent the picture to the “Painters of Reality” exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and early in 2011 included it in its 50-painting loan show titled “Baroque Painting in Lombardy from the Pinacoteca di Brera” at the Mary Brogan Museum of Art and Science in Tallahassee.

The Brogan Museum was alerted of the Gentili claim, and the family’s attorney, Corinne Hershkovitch, contacted U.S. authorities, providing them with documented proof of the painting’s previous ownership. The Brogan Museum held onto the painting until Nov. 4, 2011, when the work was seized by federal officials, and held in an undisclosed location until its ownership was legally resolved in favor of the Gentili heirs.




Nicholas Hall, Co-Chairman, Old Masters & 19th Century Art, comments:

“Christie’s is honored to be chosen to auction this rare work on behalf of the heirs of Federico Gentili di Giuseppe.  Romanino’s “Christ Carrying the Cross” is a masterpiece of the Italian High Renaissance, which could hang in any major museum: a picture of this importance by the artist has not been available on the market for more than a decade.”

The theme of Christ Carrying the Cross, in which Jesus is presented half-length and at close range against a neutral dark background while tormented by his executioners, was enormously popular in north Italian painting in the first half of the sixteenth century. Such representations were intended to serve a devotional function, as a stimulus to prayer and pious contemplation. Most often relatively small in scale, they were typically commissioned by a private patron for display in a study, bedroom or small chapel in the home, as is likely to have been the case with the present picture.

Christ Carrying the Cross is based on the dramatically-charged episode from the Passion in which Jesus is forced to carry the cross on which he will be crucified from Pilate’s palace in Jerusalem.  Romanino shows Christ half-length, dressed in a splendid copper-colored satin robe and wearing a crown of intricately twisted thorns. He is bowed under the weight of an enormous wooden cross, which he grasps with both hands while turning his head to the right, gazing out past the viewer as if deep in thought. At upper left, the head of a brutish torturer emerges from the shadows, his mouth open and teeth bared as if taunting Christ as his clenched fist pulls on the knotted rope around the Savior’s neck.

The juxtaposition of the crude vehemence of the torturer’s expression and the quiet restraint of Christ gives visual expression to the age-old struggle between good and evil, here also symbolized by the tormentor’s placement to the left of Christ, that is, on the sinister side. Christ’s robe seems to have slipped to expose his bare shoulder, alluding to the humiliation he will endure when he is stripped before being crucified, a poignant detail which heightens the pathos of the scene. The torturer’s bushy moustache and red velvet beret with a full white plume, suggest those worn by the German mercenary soldiers who sowed terror across north Italy in the 16th century, perhaps known to Romanino first-hand, but which he also would have seen in German prints by Daniel Hopfer and others, then widely disseminated. Notwithstanding the subject, the violence is subdued. The picture conveys a sense of  peace, due not only to Christ’s tranquil expression, but also to its balanced and harmonious design.  Read more here.



One thought on “Looted 16th-Century Masterpiece to go to Auction: Girolamo Romanino’s “Christ Carrying the Cross”

  1. First, let me say another wonderful post . The yes of Christ in this painting haunt me. The woe and strain is palpable. What a wonderful work of art. I have to admit if I were the heir of such a painting I really do not think I could bear to auction this piece.
    The fact that it found it’s way back to the original family owners speaks of the good vs evil struggle.
    Good won in this instance..
    Such a painting i will not soon forget.

    Posted by free penny press | April 28, 2012, 8:49 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.


%d bloggers like this: