This is thought to be one of Boccaccino’s earliest known works. It is an altarpiece painted for the choir screen of the church of S. Domenico in Cremona.
Christ carries the Cross escorted by three soldiers, two of whom are pulling the rope around his neck. The procession winds up the hill, on top of which two crosses have been erected. The two thieves who will be crucified beside Jesus walk ahead wearing only loincloths. Saint John, dressed in red, clasps his hands and looks down at the Virgin who has fainted and is surrounded by the three Marys, who were later to discover Christ’s empty tomb.
Saint John’s position in the centre of the altarpiece suggests he was the subject of special devotion by the person who commissioned it. The swooning (lo spasimo in Italian) of the Virgin is an episode shown in a number of sixteenth-century Italian paintings of Christ carrying the Cross, and this altar in S. Domenico was dedicated to the mystery.
This is thought to be one of Boccaccino’s earliest known works, painted shortly after he arrived in Cremona from Ferrara in 1500. The style of armour and dress also suggest a date not long after 1500. The altarpiece was painted for the right-hand side of a choir screen erected between 1499 and 1505 in the church of S. Domenico, one of the largest churches in Cremona. The lighting in the painting comes from the right, which would have been the direction of light in the church. Boccaccino also painted an altarpiece of the Virgin for the left side of the choir screen.
Christ carries the Cross escorted by three helmeted soldiers, two of whom are pulling the rope around his neck. Two Jewish officials follow on horseback behind Christ and a Roman soldier in armour rides ahead. The procession winds up the hill, on top of which two crosses have been erected. The two thieves who will be crucified beside Jesus walk ahead, wearing only loincloths. Saint John clasps his hands and looks down at the Virgin who has fainted and is surrounded by the three kneeling Marys.
Saint John’s position in the centre of the altarpiece suggests he was the subject of special devotion by the person who commissioned it. The altarpiece’s chief subject is the swooning (lo spasimo in Italian) of the Virgin, an episode shown in a number of sixteenth-century Italian paintings of Christ carrying the Cross. The prominent positions of the young man with the sword and the mounted soldier in armour suggest that they might have been donors, although it is more usual for donors to watch the religious event rather than take part. It has also been suggested that the young soldier might be a portrait of the painter’s eldest son, Camillo. The Procession to Calvary is not a common subject for the main panel of an Italian altarpiece, although it is often included in the smaller panels beneath, known as predellas. Another Italian example of a similar date is Ridolfo Ghirlandaio’s Procession to Calvary of about 1505.
Boccaccino’s composition is unusually ambitious in its complexity and variety of action. Some parts are very carefully considered and painted, for example the reflections of the knight’s hands in his armour, whereas other features seem to have been adopted for convenience, for example the ‘flaps’ of landscape concealing the figures' legs in the procession, and the repetition of the hand gestures of several figures. The picture appears to have been painted quickly. Long sweeping brushstrokes can be seen in the sky, and the hills are modelled in thick paint, with the buildings painted wet-in-wet. Highlights are applied meticulously in some areas, for example in Saint John’s hair, and with great energy in others, such as the splashes of paint on the arm of the soldier pushing Christ, and on his helmet. The background was filled in with careless speed and the paint on the flank of the white horse has been worked with the fingers.
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