At the suggestion of a Brescian architect called Rodolfo Vantini, towards the end of 1839 Countess Carolina Santi Bevilacqua commissioned the Venetian artist Francesco Hayez to paint a canvas of Our Lady of Sorrows for the chapel of the family castle in Legnago. Subsequently, it became part of Andrea Maffei’s collection and was then moved to Riva del Garda, where it is documented in 1875, before then being bequeathed to the de Lutti family.
Hayez, one of the greatest protagonists of the Romantic period in Milan, greatly favoured history painting and the portrait genre, but he also undertook sacred subjects for which he received occasional commissions. Trained in the great tradition of the Venetian use of colour derived ultimately from Titian, Hayez opted for a palette of especially cold tones in the Lady of Sorrows, imparting a mood of intense spirituality, accentuated by the unusual choice of placing the light source behind the Virgin.
The construction of the composition follows an unusual diagonal scheme, whose vectors are marked by the pyramidal figure of Mary, by a wing and by the daring perspective of the cross supported with difficulty by the angels; in the centre, the suffering face of the Virgin, constituting the fulcrum of the work, contrasts with the upward thrust of the angels supporting her body. At bottom right, the elegant winged spirit gathered in prayer is a nod to Canova’s sculptural production, which was much appreciated by Hayez.