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Altobello Melone, 'Christ carrying the Cross', about 1515

Key facts
Full title Christ carrying the Cross
Artist Altobello Melone
Artist dates about 1490; died before 1543
Date made about 1515
Medium and support Oil on wood
Dimensions 61 × 46.5 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1993
Inventory number NG6546
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Christ carrying the Cross
Altobello Melone

Christ carries the Cross on which he will be crucified. Bust-length paintings of this subject had become popular in Venice and Lombardy by the end of the fifteenth century.

The emotional charge and drama of this painting are heightened by the tight cropping of the scene and the extremes of light and dark. The focus is on Christ, who raises his right hand, possibly in a gesture of blessing. His arm and hand appear to project from the painting into our space. He looks slightly away from us, as if turning to one of the holy women, or the Virgin Mary, who accompanied him on his journey.

A soldier grasps the rope looped about Christ’s neck; his face and the reflection on his helmet emerge from the darkness out of which Christ moves. The head of another soldier painted behind the Cross is now barely visible except in very strong light.

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