The dead Christ, wearing the crown of thorns and displaying his wounds from the Crucifixion, is supported by two angels. One of them gazes at him while the other looks at us for our response. The figures fill the entire image, focusing our whole attention on the body of Christ, his wounds and his suffering.
The atmosphere is one of intense emotion, emphasised by the restricted dark space, the elongated slender figures and the tightly cropped composition. Displayed above an altar, the image would have reinforced the direct connection between the bread and wine of the Communion and the physical body of Christ, as well as giving the impression of Christ being raised from his tomb, just as those receiving the sacrament will rise from the dead on Judgement Day.
The painting may be by an unknown sixteenth-century Lombard artist known as the Master of the Stockholm Pietà, who was influenced by the Sienese artist Sodoma and the Milanese works of Leonardo.
The dead Christ, wearing the humiliating crown of thorns and displaying his wounds from the Crucifixion, is supported by two angels. His head is tipped backwards, his jaw slack and his mouth lolling open in death revealing his teeth – rarely seen in Italian paintings at this date and uncomfortably intimate. One of the angels gazes at Christ while the other looks at us for our response.
The figures fill the entire image, focusing our whole attention on the body of Christ, his wounds and his suffering. The atmosphere is one of intense emotion, emphasised by the restricted dark space, the elongated slender figures and the tightly cropped composition. An extra eye and eyebrow just visible to the left of the right-hand angel suggests that the angel has been moved from an earlier position.
Displayed above an altar, this image would have reinforced the direct connection of the bread and wine of Communion with the physical body of Christ, and with his suffering and sacrifice for the salvation of humankind. Above an altar, the image would also have given the impression of Christ being raised from his tomb. The upright position of his body (the pose reminiscent of Christ in Michelangelo’s Entombment) emphasises that he will be resurrected, just as the Christian faithful who partake of the sacrament will rise from the dead on Judgement Day. By stimulating the viewer’s emotions, the artist intensifies their personal connection with Christ.
The painting was once thought to be by the Sienese painter Sodoma. There is a similar picture of the same subject attributed to Sodoma in the Pinacoteca Nazionale, Siena, but the National Gallery painting is clearly later in date. It has also been suggested that it might be a very early work by the Milanese painter Giulio Cesare Procaccini (1574–1625), or that the artist might be the little-known Fra Paolo Piazza da Castelfranco, who worked in the Veneto in the late sixteenth century.
There is a stylistically similar Pietà in the National Museum, Stockholm, by an unknown sixteenth-century Lombard artist, whose identity the art historian Federico Zeri has been attempting to piece together. Known as the Master of the Stockholm Pietà after what is considered to be his most important work, the group of paintings attributed to him have a highly individual and distinctive style, influenced by Sodoma but also revealing inspiration from the Milanese works of Leonardo da Vinci. Several of the works attributed to this artist are in prominent collections in Milan, suggesting that he may have been working there. It is possible that the National Gallery painting is also connected to this group of works.
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