ITALIAN masters         



(Rome D. 1785)


The Assumption of the Virgin



 oil on panel, shaped

15 3/4 x 12 1/2 in



Mrs. B.M. Allaway; sale, Christie’s, 16 April 1926, lot 99, as “Giordano;” sale, Christie’s, 16 December 1983, lot 70; sale, Christie’s, London, 8 December, 1995, lot 336.


Begrundet Von Ulrich Thieme and Felix Becker, Allgemeines Lexikon Der Bildenden Kunstler von DerAntike Bis Zur Gegenwart, vols. 23/24, Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, Munich, 1992, p. 230;

Stella Rudolph, ed., La Pittura del ‘700 a Roma, Longanesi & C., Milan, 1983;

Edgar Peters Brown and Joseph J. Rishel, Art in Rome in the Eighteenth Century, exh. cat. Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2000;

Gianni Papi, Antiveduto Gramatica, Edizione dei Soncino, Soncino, Italy, 1995.


Lorenzo Masucci’s panel depicts the Assumption of the Virgin, the ascent of Mary’s soul and body to heaven. As depicted in this panel, the Virgin was carried to heaven by angels, unlike Christ who simply ascended to heaven under his own divine power.[1]  The Assumption does not appear in the Bible; belief in the event rests on apocryphal literature from the 3rd and 4th centuries, eventually leading to the Feast Day of the Assumption, celebrated by 500. The cult of the Virgin grew in the middle ages, reaching a crescendo with the Golden Legend, an encyclopedia of the saints and other religious figures.  From the time it appeared, the Golden Legend informed the iconography of innumerable works of art.

Masucci’s depiction of the subject is traditional.  He depicts the Virgin supported on clouds surrounded by cherubs.  The Virgin is cloaked in red and blue.  She holds her arms outstretched and gazes upwards devotedly towards the heaven that awaits her.  The billowing drapery of the Virgin creates a sense of motion and grace to the miraculous scene.  The sky above Mary glows with a kind of golden light, a reference to the eternal light of heaven.

The panel is irregularly shaped.  This painting may have been made for the newly surging, culturally sophisticated elite in Rome.  Intended for private devotion rather than ecclesiastical settings, cabinet-sized devotional paintings were created for connoisseurs and collectors.  Other examples of such irregularly shaped panels exist, like two other paintings owned by Otto Naumann Ltd, the Samson and Delilah and Dedalus and Icarus by Antiveduto Gramatica.[2]   On the other hand, it is equally possible that the Assumption of the Virgin served as a modello for a larger, unexecuted altarpiece. 

Not much is known about the artist himself, though it seems he worked produced relatively few works.[3]  He is the son of the Italian painter and draughtsman Agostino Masucci (1690-1768).  Agostino was apprenticed to Carlo Maratti, the most influential artist in Rome of the eighteenth century.  The work of father and son both reflects the earlier classicism exemplified by Raphael, Annibale Carracci, and Domenichino.

[1] The root of the word assumption is “adsumere,” to take up, implying that Mary was carried to heaven, that is, by angels, unlike Christ who simply ascended to heaven. 

[2] See Gianni Papi, Antiveduto Gramatica, Soncino, Italy: Edizione dei Soncino, 1995, cats. 59, 60.

[3] To see other extant examples of paintings by the artist, see Stella Rudolph, La Pittura del ‘700 a Roma, vol. 2, Milan: Longanesi & C., 1983, cats. 470, 471.