Christ Crucified (1632) by Diego Velazquez
Christ Crucified (1632)
Name: Christ Crucified (Christ on the Cross)
Velazquez made his reputation as one of the best portrait artists in Spain, becoming official painter to Philip IV (reigned 1621-40) and ultimately the greatest representative of Spanish painting of the Baroque period. However, despite the fact that religious art was especially important in Spain - a country whose ruling monarchy prided itself on being major sponsors of Catholic Counter-Reformation art - Velazquez painted comparatively few religious paintings of note. Instead, he painted the world he saw around him, specializing in portrait art, some genre painting (bodegones) and the occasional history painting. Ironically, given the paucity of his religious works, he was most influenced by the Italian genius Caravaggio (1571-1610), who is noted above all for his Biblical art, executed in an aggressively realist style. Velazquez was also strongly influenced by the ideas of the Italian Renaissance gained from his Seville teacher Francisco Pacheco (1564-1644). Aside from Christ Crucified, his best Baroque paintings include: The Waterseller of Seville (1618-22); The Surrender of Breda (1635); Portrait of Pope Innocent X (1650); The Rokeby Venus (1647-51), and Las Meninas (1656).
This intensely powerful image of Jesus on the Cross was painted during the creative period that followed Velazquez' first stimulating trip to Italy (1629-31). Unlike his other male nudes which appeared in paintings like the Apollo in Vulcan's Forge (1530-1, Prado, Madrid) and Joseph's Tunic (1630, Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial), his Christ on the Cross is a dead or dying body which is unaccompanied by other narrative elements except for the cross itself. Nonetheless, the artist succeeds in endowing the work with great dignity and serenity.
Believed to be a commission for the San Placido Convent sacristy, the austere posture of the crucified Christ features four nails, feet together and seemingly supported by a little wooden ledge, which allows the arms to form a subtle curve, instead of a triangle. The head is crowned with a halo, while the face is resting on the chest, allowing us a glimpse of his features. His lank, straight hair hangs down over the right side of his face, its further path being traced by blood dripping from the wound in his right side.
The picture is unusually autobiographical in the sense that it illustrates all the major influences in Velazquez's painting. To begin with it recalls the devotional tone and iconography of paintings absorbed during his early years in Seville under Francisco Pacheco, an active member of the Spanish Inquisition. Second, it reflects his skill at figure painting acquired in Spain from the study of Spanish Renaissance Artists and, in Italy, from the art of classical antiquity, from High Renaissance art in Rome and Venice, and from Caravaggio's works in Rome and Naples. (For more historical background, see: Venetian Altarpieces: 1500-1600 and Caravaggio in Naples: 1607-10.)
The influence of Classicism in the work is shown in the overall calmness of the body and its idealized, posture. The influence of Caravaggism is evident in the dramatic tenebrism that focuses all attention on Christ's pale body.
True, the picture does not have the characteristic drama of Baroque painting, seen in such religious works as The Crucifixion of St. Peter (1601), or Descent from the Cross (Rubens) (1612-14). Instead it possesses a monumental sculptural quality that elevates it, in keeping with the spirituality of the subject matter. The composition is starkly simple yet with a vivid contrast between the white body and the dark background, and there is a naturalism in the way that Christ's head falls on his chest. The matted hair is painted with the looseness that Velazquez had seen and admired first-hand in examples of Venetian painting, most especially by Titian.
Entombment of Christ (1601-3) by Caravaggio.
and Delilah (1609-10) by Rubens.
of Divine Providence (1633-39) by Pietro da Cortona.
of St Ignatius (1688-94) by Andrea Pozzo.
For more religious paintings by Spanish Baroque artists like Velazquez, see: Homepage.
ENCYCLOPEDIA OF ART EDUCATION