Blessed Bernard Tolomei Interceding for the Cessation of the Plague in Siena

Object Details


Blessed Bernard Tolomei Interceding for the Cessation of the Plague in Siena


Giuseppe Maria Crespi (Italian (Bolognese), 1665 - 1747)




about 1735


Oil on copper


43.2 x 67 cm (17 x 26 3/8 in.)

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During the Black Death of 1348, the Blessed Bernard Tolomei left the safety of his Benedictine monastery in Monte Oliveto and returned to his native Siena to attend to the sick and dying. He succumbed to the plague that same year and soon became the object of religious devotion. An abbot from Bernard's monastic order commissioned this painting in 1736, when Bernard was being considered for sainthood. Giuseppe Maria Crespi interpreted the story's pathos with great depth, expression, and immediacy.

Wearing a white robe and holding a crucifix, Bernard and a fellow monk attend to plague victims in an open-air encampment outside the walls of Siena. On the left, a priest walks under an umbrella, accompanied by an acolyte. Several plague-stricken figures languish on the ground in various stages of death. Below Bernard, a woman slumps over while her small child desperately tries to pull her upright. At her feet, the foreshortened body of a dead infant falls in the area between the acolyte and bowing monk. A woman has perished in the right corner, her gray-skinned body lifeless, thus a man above her holds a cloth over his mouth to avoid smelling the stench. Contorted, highlighted figures emerge from the shadowy darkness to confront the viewer, accordingly heightening the emotion of the drama.

by 1730s -

Abate Corsi (San Bartolommeo a Monte Oliveto, Florence, Italy), commissioned from the artist, about 1735.

by 1767 -

Marchese Gino Capponi (Florence, Italy)

- 1945

Private Collection [sold, Walter, Tabourdeau, Drouot, Paris, February 7, 1945, lot 19.]

Private Collection (Switzerland)

1985 - 1986

Piero Corsini Inc. (New York, New York), sold to the J. Paul Getty Museum, 1986.

Esposizione de'Quadri (January 1 to July 5, 1767)
  • Cloister of the Ss Annunziata, (Florence), January 1 to July 5, 1767
Giuseppe Maria Crespi and the Emergence of Genre Painting in Italy (September 20 to December 7, 1986)
  • Kimbell Art Museum, (Fort Worth), September 20 to December 7, 1986
Hope and Healing: Painting in Italy in a Time of Plague, 1500-1800 (April 2 to September 25, 2005)
  • Worcester Art Museum, (Worcester), April 2 to September 25, 2005
Captured Emotions: Baroque Painting in Bologna 1575-1725 (December 16, 2008 to May 3, 2009) (pl. 10)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center, (Los Angeles), December 16, 2008 to May 3, 2009