Christ at the Pool of Bethesda

Christ at the Pool of Bethesda

Ferraù Fenzoni

oil on wood
338 x 225 cm
source of the artwork

hurch of the Confraternita di San Giovanni Decollato, also known as the Confraternita della Buona Morte; Compagnia della Carità, entered the Pinacoteca in 1879

short description

The Confraterinta di San Giovanni Decollato, also known as the Confraternity of Good Death, in Faenza commissioned this large altarpiece from Ferraù Fenzoni on his return to his native city in 1599.

The subject of the painting, taken from the Gospel according to St. John (Jn, 5:1-18), tells of a miracle at the Pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem, a site consisting of five arcades and sheltering a large number of invalids. Jesus, who was in the city to celebrate a Jewish festivity, healed a man of thirty-eight who had been paralysed. In the painting, the scene in its Classical architectural setting is entirely occupied by bystanders looking on in agitated excitement, in a whirlwind of movements, gestures and drapery that Fenzoni handles with meticulous care. In the corner bottom left, a tribute to a still-life consists of a flask, a bowl and a white loaf, while the remains of a Corinthian column can be seen on the right.

inventary n°

The dating of this work commissioned from Fenzoni for the church of San Giovanni Decollato by the eponymous Confraternity, known also as the Confraternity of Good Death, is based on a document stating that a friar was tasked on 16 July 1600 with scouring Bologna for the paints with which to paint it (Valgimigli, 1875).

The subject, taken from the Gospel according to St. John (Jn, 5:1-18), tells of Jesus’s healing of an invalid by the Pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem.

In a Classical architectural setting, a crowd of figures witnesses the miracle. Their gestures, arms, tortion and drapery all help to create a whirlwind within which everything is in movement. Fenzoni successfully combines the late Mannerist style typical of his Roman period with the realism of Annibale Carracci, which shines through in particular in the nudes and in the figures in the foreground. It is also difficult not to see in the woman shown from behind kneeling in the lower foreground a clear echo of Raphael’s two female figures in the Expulsion of Heliodorus from the Temple in the Stanza of Heliodorus in the Vatican and the Transfiguration in the Pinacoteca Vaticana.

Two preparatory studies for the painting have also survived, one in Frankfurt 1 , depicting the central scene with the healing of the paralysed man; and the other, sold on the antique market in New York 2 , depicting The Pool of Bethesda on the front and a Study for the lower right group and figure of Christ on the back.
The New York drawing is unquestionably one of the painter’s most ambitious achievements, revealing the meticulousness which he lavished on the development of this altarpiece, the first work to be commissioned from him on his return to Faenza. His concern for his figures’ proportions is clearly visible in the notes on the back of the sheet concerning the height of the various elements in the composition. But despite the fact that the New York drawing has an airy feel to it, after reducing the architectural setting in the final painting, Fenzoni was forced to compress his figures into the space available, thus creating a heavier composition altogether.

S. Casadei, La Pinacoteca di Faenza, Bologna 1991, p. 88

R. Eitel Portel, Ferraù Fenzoni in Saur, Allgemeines Künstler-Lexicon, München 2003, p. 203

MAZZA 1991
A. Mazza, La collezione di dipinti antichi della cassa di risparmio di Cesena, Cesena 1991, p. 85

G. Scavizzi, N. Schwed, Ferraù Fenzoni: pittore disegnatore, Todi 2006, pp. 150-151

G. M. Valgimigli, Cenni biografici intorno al Cav. Ferraù Fenzoni pittore, Faenza 1875, p. 142

G. Viroli: “La pittura in Romagna” in La pittura in Emilia e Romagna, Milano 1994, p. 19

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

written by
Sveva Carnevale
  1. Städelsches Kunstinstitut, no. 4412[]
  2. Christie’s, New York, 28 January 2000, lot no.16:[]