Adoration of the Shepherds

Adoration of the Shepherds

Marco da Faenza

oil on canvas
280 x 178 cm
source of the artwork

Church of Santa Maria dell’Angelo, Faenza

short description

This is a painting of crucial importance in reconstructing the artist’s career because not only can it be precisely dated to 1567 but it may be one of the first, if not the first, altarpieces he painted in his home town. The composition is influenced by what he learnt while working with Giorgio Vasari, a celebrated painter from Arezzo who wrote Lives of the Artists (1550; 1568). Vasari worked closely with Marchetti and even included a flattering biography of him in the (1568) edition of his Lives. Yet in this altarpiece, alongside Vasari’s influence, we can also detect an echo of the work that Marchetti saw in Rome, in Mannerist circles and through contact with artists from northern Europe. The result is a painting which, while very much up to date, is somewhat chaotic, and in connection with which modern scholars have tended to adopt a negative view until only very recently.

inventary n°

In 1871 the local historian Valgimigli published a contract between Marco Marchetti and the Confraternity of Santa Maria dell’Angelo dated 30 December 1566, in which the painter promises the chamberlain Girolamo de Rossi that he will paint a panel or canvas with the Nativity of Christ and the Adoration of the Shepherds including a number of figures to complete the composition, the whole in accordance with the precepts of the patrons commissioning the work. The artist was bound to deliver the large altarpiece in the space of a few months, by Easter 1567. In the 19th century Andrea Strocchi (Notizie intorno alla vita di Marco figlio di Andrea Marchetti Pittore Faentino 1500, Faenza, Biblioteca Manfrediana, MS 77.II.II.20) reported the existence of the final settlement dated 6 September 1567, a document now in the files relating to Bernardino Azzurrini, a notary public of Faenza, in the Archivio di Stato of Faenza. The document, drafted in the home of Girolamo de Rossi in the presence of the artist and of a number of other witnesses, sets the balance at 64lbs. of wheat, pursuant to the painter’s promise that he would count himself content with that and conclusively releasing De Rossi and the Confraternity from the need to make any further payment. Thus the painting marks a fixed point in the often uncertain chronology of Marco Marchetti’s work. Painted a few months after the vault of the Molinella and in the year in which Counter-Reformation repression got under way with the conviction of Jacopone da Faenza, the picture is the first altarpiece that Marchetti painted in Romagna, as far as the state of our knowledge allows us to judge today. The painting received a negative assessment from Antonio Corbara in 1939 on the grounds that, in his view, it was peopled with “empty, characterless figures”, yet he agreed that it was nonetheless capable of fulfilling the desired scenographic effect, which he tells us the artist learnt while producing ephemeral apparatus in Rome and in Florence. This negative view crops up again in the writings of Sauro Casadei (1991; 1992) who reiterates Corbara’s view, underscoring a “scenographic effect” that produces an unconvincing whole where figures are repeated, resulting in a “poor figurative level”. Daniele Benati (1994), on the other hand, used this altarpiece as a yardstick to bolster his attribution to Marchetti of an Annunciation owned by the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Cesena, thus triggering the artist’s critical rehabilitation and highlighting numerous points of contact with the style of artists from northern Europe working in Italy and, on a broader level, with the artistic mood prevailing in Rome at the turn of the 16th century. And we can indeed detect the influence of such painters as Taddeo Zuccari and more especially of his brother Federico – particularly in connection with their frescoes in the Frangipani Chapel – in the pose of certain figures, primarily in that of the figure in the foreground extending his arm to point to the Christ Child. Alongside this Roman influence, however, we can also perceive an echo of the compositions of Giorgio Vasari who often worked closely with Marchetti. One has but to compare the small dog bottom left with the same figure in Vasari’s Adoration of the Magi in the Tempio Malatestiano in Rimini. Thus barely a year and a half after the last work that he produced in Florence under Vasari’s guiding hand, Marchetti was still displaying his personal take on the great artist’s style. Take, for example, the crowd huddling around the Virgin and Child (the “quantitate personarum” called for by the patrons in the contract, thus pointing to the taste of the period) with the cortege of figures in Lorenzo the Magnificent Receiving the Tribute of the Ambassadors in Palazzo Vecchio, which Vasari painted with abundant help from Marchetti between 1556 and 1558. A number of figures from the Lorenzo painting are repeated almost identically, as though from a repertoire or copy book, in Marchetti’s first altarpiece in Faenza. In addition to this, we should also look at the preparatory drawing for the Adoration of the Shepherds now in the Uffizi (inv. 12514F), which still betrays Vasari’s influence to such an extent that, even though it is by Marchetti’s own hand, it is markedly different from the majority of the artist’s drawings that have come down to us, almost all of which date back to the 1570s and are characterised both by a more compendiary style and by an unmistakable sepia tone diluted into very liquid fields.

Thus the Adoration of the Shepherds is a crucially important work in the development of Marchetti’s style, one of his first attempts at religous art, combining Vasari’s cultural teachings with fresh influences from later Roman Mannerism, particularly from the work of Federico Zuccari and other northern European artists who were propounding their new stylistic concepts at that time.

D. Benati, Per Antonio Corbara: tre temi romagnoli dal ‘500 al ‘700, in Atti del convegno di studio in onore dello storico e critico d’arte dott. Antonio Corbara nel X° anniversario della morte (Castelbolognese, 16.4.1994), Faenza 1994, pp. 129-139 (pp. 133-134)

S. Casadei, Pinacoteca di Faenza, Bologna 1991, p. 73

S. Casadei, Marco Marchetti. 9. Adorazione dei pastori, in Biblia pauperum. Dipinti dalle diocesi di Romagna 1570-1670, ed. N. Ceroni and G. Viroli, Bologna 1992, pp. 33-35

A. Cecchi, “Pratica, fierezza e terribilità nelle grottesche di Marco da Faenza in Palazzo Vecchio a Firenze”, Paragone, XXVIII (1977), 329, pp. 6-26

CORBARA 1939 (ed. 1986)
A. Corbara, Aspetti del tardo manierismo faentino (1939), in Gli artisti. La città, studi sull’arte faentina di Antonio Corbara, Bologna 1986, pp. 191-221

DA GAI 2007
V. Da Gai, Marchetti Marco detto Marco da Faenza, in Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani, 69, 2007, p. 652

D. Grandini, “La pittura devozionale di Marco Marchetti artista faentino del Cinquecento”, Studi romagnoli, LIII (2002), pp. 433-442 (pp. 437, 439)

MAZZA 2001
A. Mazza, La galleria dei dipinti della Cassa di Risparmio di Cesena, Milano 2001.

MAZZA 2008
A. Mazza, La Galleria dei Dipinti Antichi della Fondazione e della Cassa di Risparmio di Cesena. Guida illustrata, Cesena 2008, p. 39

M. Musmeci, Una dimora patrizia del XVI secolo a Rimini. Palazzo Maschi-Marcheselli-Lettimi, Cesena 1997, p. 60

G.M. Valgimigli, Dei pittore e degli artisti faentini de’ secoli XV e XVI, Faenza 1871, p. 96

G. Zavatta, Marco Marchetti, in Storia delle arti figurative a Faenza. Il Cinquecento, parte seconda, Faenza 2023, pp. 57-70 (pp. 58-59)

The images are the property of the Pinacoteca Comunale di Faenza. For the use of the images, please write to

written by
Giulio Zavatta