Christ in the House of Simon the Pharisee

Christ in the House of Simon the Pharisee

Marco da Faenza

c. 1578–80
oil on wood
230 x 166 cm
source of the artwork

Faenza, church of San Matteo

short description

The episode depicted in the altarpiece, from the Second Gospel of St. Luke (Lk 7:36-50), tells of when Jesus was a guest of one of the Pharisees. Discovering that Jesus was in the Pharisee’s house and recognising her sins, a woman went up to him and prostrated herself at his feet, wetting them with her tears, kissing them and anointing them with scented oil.
Marco da Faenza sets the story in an altarpiece crowded with figures who, however, are seated at table or busy carrying in food and drink and appear almost not to notice what is going on. In the foreground, the jar containing the oil is typical of the kind of majolica made in Faenza at the time. This simple decoration on a white ground is known as “Faenza white”.

inventary n°

This altarpiece, praised by Luigi Lanzi (Casadei 1991, p. 9), was first afforded consideration by the local historian Valgimigli (1871), who mentions it as being in the Pinacoteca “brought there from the church of S. Matteo”. Valgimigli – emulated by all subsequent scholarship – argued that the painting already existed in 1573 on the basis of an alleged mention in a pastoral visit for that year, in which Bishop Marchesini notes a “lovely gilded icon” in the church of San Matteo. In actual fact, the mention (Archivio Vescovile di Faenza, Visita Marchesini, 1573, c. 142 front and back) not only fails to describe the subject of the “icon” but also specifies that it was gilded, a description which certainly does not fit Marchetti’s altarpiece – although the Bishop may conceivably have been referring to the presence of a gilded frame.

Writing in 1939 in the furrow of Valgimigli’s notes, Antonio Corbara confirms the date of 1573, considering it to be “one of Marchetti’s earliest” altarpieces and following up his historical assertion with a thoroughly negative assessment not only of the altarpiece in question but indeed of Marchetti’s entire output. Yet Sauro Casadei, writing in 1991 in the wake of a further essay penned by Corbara in 1951, says that the altarpiece “is considered to be Marchetti’s masterpiece in subsequent literature [i.e. after Luigi Lanzi]”.
In terms of its iconography and composition, the subject is based on a work by Raphael known from an engraving by Andrea Andreani (Bartsch, XII, p. 40, n. 17) and Marcantonio Raimondi depicting a fresco now destroyed which once graced the vault of the Chapel of St. Mary Magdalen in the church of Trinità de’ Monti in Rome.

The subject also recurs, in a version very similar to Marchetti’s painting, in a fresco by Raffaellino da Reggio in the Loggias of Pope Gregory XIII in the Vatican (Bigi Iotti, Zavatta 2008, p. 71), a project in which Marchetti also had a hand. Raffaellino’s composition is probably what provided Marchetti with the idea for his own work, though he developed it in a vertical rather than a horizontal sense. In any event, this pairing would appear to point to a later date for the altarpiece, which may thus have been painted c. 1580.

S. Casadei, Pinacoteca di Faenza, Bologna 1991, p. 9, n. 14

S. Casadei, Marco Marchetti. 9. Adorazione dei pastori, in Biblia pauperum. Dipinto 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.

A. Colombi Ferretti, Marco Marchetti detto Marco da Faenza, in La pittura in Italia. Il Cinquecento, 2 vols., Milano 1988, vol. II, p. 762.

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 (p. 214)

LANZI 1816
L. Lanzi, Storia pittorica della Italia dal risorgimento delle belle arti fin presso al fine del XVIII Secolo, 6 vols., Pisa 1815-1817, vol. V, Pisa 1816, p. 74

MAZZA 2001
A. Mazza, La galleria dei dipinti della Cassa di Risparmio di Cesena, Milano 2001, p. 118

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

G.M. Valgimigli, Dei pittore e degli artisti faentini de’ secoli XV e XVI, Faenza 1869, p. 97

G.M. Valgimigli, Dei pittore e degli artisti faentini de’ secoli XV e XVI, Faenza 1871, p. 101

G. Zavatta, Marco Marchetti, in M. Calogero, D. Gasparotto, M. Minardi, C. Ravanelli Guidotti, A. Tambini, G. Zavatta, Storia delle arti figurative a Faenza. Il Cinquecento, parte seconda, Faenza 2023, pp. 57-70 (p. 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