Since the mid-sixteenth century this altarpiece has dominated the presbytery from behind the high altar in the Parish Church.
Tiziano (Titian) Vecellio (Pieve di Cadore 1490ca. – Venice 1576) painted this work in his old age, presumably around 1554.
The painting was probably a gift from the great artist in gratitude for the long years during which he enjoyed the parish benefit assigned by the Duke of Mantua first to the painter’s son Pomponio and then to his nephew. Titian’s late work expresses his pictorial wisdom and craft, especially in the powerful figure of Christ, who lovingly directs his gaze on to His kneeling Mother, surrounded by vibrant light, which is the hallmark of immortal Vecellio.
Important critics, such as Panofsky (1969), also point out the exceptional quality of this altarpiece from a theological perspective, and suggest a resemblance with another painting by Titian, “Cristo coronato di spine” (The Crowning with Thorns), housed in the Musée du Louvre, as well as with Michelangelo’s style.
The altarpiece shows the figure of the risen Christ in the centre, and the kneeling Virgin in adoration. To the left, behind Christ, the work also shows four figures in semi-darkness, respectively, Noah, Abraham, Adam carrying Christ’s cross, and Eve.
The presence of these characters has made it difficult to grasp the theological significance of the painting.
This is the only altarpiece by Vecellio left in the Mantuan area to this day.
The canvas, exhibited for the first time at Ca’ Pesaro in 1935, formed part of the major retrospective of the artist’s work in Venice. It appeared in Palazzo Ducale (The duke’s Palace) in Mantua as part of the 1974 exhibition “Tesori d’arte nella terra dei Gonzaga” (Treasures of art in the land of the Gonzagas).
On the night between 25 th and 26 th April 1968 the painting was stolen but found again on 12 May the same year; the work was badly damaged in the theft and was subsequently sent to the Istituto Centrale del Restauro in Rome and returned to the church on 22 nd September 1971.