Ca. 1570. Oil on canvas, 207 x 265 cm.
This painting is Jacopo's first depiction of the passage from Genesis 6:20 and the only one in which the theme is treated separately rather than as part of a series depicting the story of Noah. Jacopo respected the biblical tale in terms of the number of people who were saved -Noah, his wife, and his three sons Shem, Ham and Japheth, with their wives- but took liberties with the animals. In some cases, such as the dogs, lambs and cows, he included more than two. He also failed to respect the priority of the lions in entering the ark, as they are preceded by an eagle and a wild boar. How realistically the animals are portrayed varies greatly, depending on whether or not they were a familiar species. Particularly striking is the artist's ignorance of the lioness' appearance, which has been depicted with a lion's mane. The use of a ramp to enter the Ark, a common feature in illustrated bibles since 1480, allowed for a better representation of the full variety of species gathered around. Rearick has noted the existence of a number of preparatory drawings for the animals in Florence (Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe degli Uffizi) and Berlin (Staatliche Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz), and it is reasonable to assume that this was the purpose of the sketch of a pair of rabbits (Uffizi, inv. 811). Noah and his family are shown in different roles. Whereas the patriarch's gestures reflect his mission as recipient and executor of the orders of Yahweh, whose presence is merely implied, his relatives appear concentrated on their tasks and oblivious to any divine manifestation.
Despite assigning the invention and much of the execution to Jacopo, Rearick detected the participation of Francesco and Giambattista. This is feasible bearing in mind how the bottega worked and the size of the canvas, although it has a uniform, harmonious finish. Some elements of the composition, such as the woman helping the first animal into the Ark, were reused by the bottega in a mediocre later version (Venice, Palazzo Ducale). The only precedent for Jacopo's treatment of this passage is Dosso Dossi's Animals Entering the Ark painted around 1510 (Providence, Rhode Island School of Design). Both paintings show the same taste for anecdote, though Dosso took greater liberties, transforming the episode into a rural scene. It is no coincidence that both painters were regarded similarly by their contemporaries, for Dossi was also celebrated for his pleasant landscapes populated with peasants engaged in everyday activities.
The thesis "upheld until only recently" that Titian acquired this painting for Charles V originated from a curious association of ideas. In 1648, Ridolfi stated that Titian had purchased a painting depicting this theme from Jacopo for 25 escudos, and since the only extant autograph version is the one in the Museo del Prado, which hails from the former Spanish royal collection, it seems logical that Titian would have presented it to Charles V, his most eminent patron. Eusebi was the first to make this assertion in 1824, and many historians followed. However, we know that the painting found its way into the royal collection by another route; it was most certainly acquired during the reign of Philip IV, probably from Crescenzi in 1634 (Text drawn from Falomir, M.: Los Bassano en la España del Siglo de Oro, Museo Nacional del Prado, 2001, pp. 224-225).