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.
Christ carries the Cross on which he will be crucified. Blood drips down his forehead, which is pierced by the thorns with which he has been crowned by his tormentors. Christ raises his right hand. His arm and hand are foreshortened in such a way that they appear to project from the painting into our space. The meaning of the gesture is unclear; it is possibly intended as a sign of blessing. Christ looks slightly away from us to the left, 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 of his helmet emerging from the darkness. The head of another soldier is painted behind the Cross, at the top right of the picture; it was probably always half hidden in dark shadows, but is now barely visible except in very strong light. The emotional charge and drama of the painting are heightened by the tight cropping of the scene, Christ’s gesture into our space and the extremes of light and dark.
Christ’s long nose and widely-spaced eyes, the shape of his hand with its boneless tapering fingers, his piercing yet vulnerable expression and his arresting gesture are all also found in The Road to Emmaus, painted by Melone only a year or so later. The fine lines of light on the crinkled borders of the drapery and the highlights on the rounded ridges of the numerous folds of Christ’s robes are typical of Melone’s work of the 1510s.
The very fine wet-in-wet hatching used for the shadows of Christ’s flesh and the soft down of his beard is similar to the way paint is used in fresco painting. Fresco dries quickly into the surface of the plaster, making it difficult to seamlessly blend areas of colour or shadow as one can with oil paint. Melone worked extensively in fresco, most notably in the scenes he painted in Cremona Cathedral, five of which were from Christ’s Passion. In this painting he chose to employ a technique associated with fresco even though he was using more easily blended oils.
Bust-length paintings of Christ carrying the Cross had become popular in Venice and Lombardy by the end of the fifteenth century. There was a very famous painting of this subject in the church of S. Rocco in Venice of about 1505, attributed both to Giorgone and Titian, which was celebrated for the miracles it worked (now in the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, Venice). It also has a very dark, almost black, background.
Melone’s painting, like the example in the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, combines the carrying of the Cross with the traditional mocking of Christ, in which soldiers pull Christ’s hair or raise their fists to strike him. Here the soldier’s raised fist clasps the rope around Christ’s neck.
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