The Agony in the Garden (Christ on the Mount of Olives), ca. 1597-98
Oil on canvas
20 7/8 x 30 in. (53 x 76.2 cm)
Mrs. F. F. Prentiss Fund, 1969
The nocturnal setting of Giuseppe Cesari's The Agony in the Garden evokes a lyrical, melancholic mood. As Christ prays and three apostles slumber in the foreground, Judas leads the Roman soldiers into the garden to arrest Christ.
In this depiction of the Agony in the Garden (Christ on the Mount of Olives), Cesari represents Christ kneeling on a rocky mount as he receives an angelic vision, here bearing the portentous cross. The three apostles who accompanied Christ to the garden--James, John, and Peter (from left to right)--sleep in the foreground. Cesari's rich, saturated palette evokes all the mystery and drama of the nocturnal landscape. Deep shadows are pierced by multiple light sources: the divine light flooding Christ as he prays, and the moon shuttling through clouds at upper right, fitfully illuminating the soldiers as they come to arrest Christ.
In contrast to other contemporary representations of the theme, which emphasize Christ's inner torment, the mood created in Cesari's painting is lyrical, rather than anguished. The apostles are slumberous with melancholy and Christ is quietly resigned to his fate: "…the idea of agony, of fear of death, is sacrificed to the mood of lament and consolation." 1
Cesari's earliest treatment of the Agony in the Garden is probably a fresco in the Sacristy of San Martino, Naples (1589-97). Although the poses of the figures are quite similar to those in the Oberlin work, the San Martino fresco is more intimate, and not as dynamic as the Oberlin painting, with its dramatic illumination and rich chiaroscuro. In the fresco, the celestial angel bears the more common attribute of a chalice, rather than the cross which appears in the Oberlin picture. In part because of its more structured composition, the Oberlin Agony in the Garden can probably be dated slightly later than the San Martino fresco, to about 1597-98. Works by the artist which are dated or documented to those years, such as The Capture of Christ of about 1597 (Rome, Galleria Borghese, inv. 356), share a "three-dimensionality of forms and...brilliance of texture in a light which evokes tensions, [and] establishes restless accents…." 2 Finally, Röttgen cites a drawing in the Louvre as probably reflecting Cesari's early conception for the figures of Saints John and Peter, at the center and right of the foreground group. 3
The popularity and success of Cesari's composition is confirmed by the many extant replicas and copies of the Oberlin Agony in the Garden. Herwarth Röttgen, in his thorough study of the Oberlin painting, noted replicas or variants of the composition in a Roman collection in the mid-nineteenth century; in a private collection in Rome about 1930; and a workshop copy, painted about 1630, at the collection of the National Trust, at Uppark, Sussex. 4 In addition to the works mentioned by Röttgen, a copy of the Oberlin painting was on the London art market in the early 1970s, and another version was sold in New York in 1993. 5 There are subtle differences between the variants; for example, in several of the paintings Christ gazes down in an attitude of submission, rather than turning towards the angelic vision, as he does in the Oberlin painting. There is also a variant of the composition in a vertical format (possibly by the artist's brother, Bernardino), which is known in at least three versions: one presently in the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff; another formerly in the Staatliche Museen, Berlin; and a copy of the latter, sold in London in 1969. 6
M. E. Wieseman
Giuseppe Cesari was probably born in the town of Arpino (located between Rome and Naples) in 1568; his father was a painter of votive images. Cesari moved to Rome in about 1581-82 and was apprenticed to Niccolò Circignani (Niccolò Pomarancio, ca. 1517/24-1596), a painter working in the maniera style. A precocious talent, Cesari became a member of the Accademia di San Luca in 1585 and received his first independent commission in 1588, for a fresco cycle in San Lorenzo, Damaso (now lost). In this and in subsequent commissions the artist developed a more classical style characterized by symmetrical compositions, narrative clarity, and larger, more imposing figures. From 1592, he was the principal painter to Pope Clement VIII in Rome, and received prestigious commissions from other members of the papal family as well. He was made a "Cavaliere di Christo" in 1601 for his decorations of the Pope's episcopal church, San Giovanni in Laterano. In 1607, Cardinal Scipione Borghese (the nephew of Clement VIII's successor, Paul V) had Cesari arrested and confiscated his collection of more than one hundred pictures (now Rome, Galleria Borghese). Cesari's late works, after about 1610, are rather rigid and archaizing, and frequently revert to the stylized conventions of the maniera.
In addition to his many large fresco cycles and altarpieces, Cesari specialized in painting small pictures for private patrons, both Roman and foreign. His works combined a new classical ideal with the graceful elegance of the maniera. Cesari's principal studio assistant was his brother Bernardino (1571-1622). His only direct followers were his sons Muzio (1619-1676) and Bernardino (d. 1703), although numerous artists, including Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1573-1610) and Andrea Sacchi (1599-1661), studied with him and admired his work.
Röttgen, Herwarth. Il Cavaliere d'Arpino. Exh. cat., Palazzo Venezia, Rome, 1973.
Forcellino, Maria. Il Cavaliere d'Arpino, Napoli 1589-1597. Milan, 1991.
Palazzo Barberini, Rome (until 1811-12)
Collection Prince Sciarra, Rome
Collection Vicenzo Camuccini, Rome (d. 1844)
Collection Dukes of Northumberland, Alnwick Castle (1856-1966)
With Thomas Agnew and Sons, London
With Paul Drey Gallery, New York, from whom purchased in 1969
London, British Institution, 1859. Cat. no. 34.
The Cleveland Museum of Art, 1984-85. <U Baroque Imagery >. 6 November - 6 January. Cat. no. 3.
Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 27, no. 2 (Winter 1970), pp. 59-60, fig. 2.
Röttgen, Herwarth. "Christ on the Mount of Olives." Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 28, no. 1 (Fall 1970), pp. 3-26.
Schloder, John. In Baroque Imagery. Exh. cat., The Cleveland Museum of Art, 1985, pp. 17-19.
The original linen canvas had been lined onto a coarse open-mesh fabric prior to acquisition by the museum; it was relined to a fiberglass fabric using a wax-resin adhesive in 1970, and affixed to an ICA-type spring stretcher. The original tacking margins are intact. The canvas is covered with a relatively thick brown ground, with a thinner grey imprimatura layer applied on top. Paint application varies from a stiff, thick layer in the foliage, to a thinner, more fluid application in the figures. Glazes are limited to the foliage and some of the garments. Scattered minor losses in the upper portion of the painting and in the foreground figures have been inpainted. The blue pigment used in the foliage (azurite) has darkened and also shrunk in drying, deepening the green areas to brown and pulling the paint into islands, separated by cracks. These cracks have also been inpainted.
1. Herwarth Röttgen, "Christ on the Mount of Olives," Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 28, no. 1 (Fall 1970), pp. 21-22.
2. Herwarth Röttgen, "Christ on the Mount of Olives," Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 28, no. 1 (Fall 1970), p. 14.
3. Red and black chalk, 18.1 x 31 cm, Paris, Musée du Louvre, Cabinet des Dessins, inv. 2996; see Herwarth Röttgen, "Christ on the Mount of Olives," Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 28, no. 1 (Fall 1970), pp. 16, 19 and fig. 2.
4. For additional information, see Herwarth Röttgen, "Christ on the Mount of Olives," Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 28, no. 1 (Fall 1970), pp. 8-10.
5. Respectively: oil on canvas, 57 x 76 cm, sale London (Sotheby's), 24 November 1971, lot 159; subsequently sale London (Sotheby's), 26 June 1974, lot 114 (as "after" Cesari, 54 x 73 cm); and oil on canvas, 48.9 x 70.5 cm, sale New York (Sotheby's), 15 January 1993, lot 39.
6. Oil on canvas, 91 x 66 cm, formerly in Berlin, Staatliche Museen; a copy of this composition, oil on copper, 49.5 x 38 cm, was in the sale London (Christie's), 16 May 1969, lot 115; see Herwarth Röttgen, "Christ on the Mount of Olives," Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 28, no. 1 (Fall 1970), p. 10, who proposed the Berlin painting as a work by Bernardino Cesari. The Cardiff painting (oil on canvas, 103 x 79 cm, with Colnaghi, London, 1976) was not known to Röttgen.