Christ’s hand is raised with his index finger pointing upwards, perhaps towards heaven, represented by the sunlit sky through the window. He holds a scroll inscribed: EGO. SVM. LVX. MŪD. meaning ‘I am the Light of the World’ (John 8: 12). Christ goes on to promise that ‘he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life,’ underlining his role as saviour.
Paintings of this type were kept in houses, especially in bedrooms and also displayed in churches. The painting is signed on the plinth of the pillar.
The hatching of the shadows in Christ’s eyes and the thin horizontal lines of white crossing his irises are typical of Bordone’s style and can also be seen in his Portrait of a Young Woman. The red of Christ’s garment has faded, making the highlights and shadows appear rather hard and abrupt.
Christ’s hand is raised with his index finger pointing upwards, perhaps towards heaven, represented by the sunlit sky through the window. He holds a scroll inscribed in dark blue paint: EGO. SVM. LVX. MV̅D. meaning ‘I am the Light of the World’. These are Christ’s words in the Gospel of Saint John (8:12). Christ goes on to promise that ‘he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life,’ underlining his role as saviour. The painting is signed in partly legible letters on the plinth of the pillar: O. [for Opus, meaning ‘work’] Paridis Bor...on.
Christ’s face is closely observed and painted, as though it were a portrait from life. Bordone expresses his artistry – expressed in his prominent signature – through his flamboyant brushwork and Christ’s animated pose. Christ’s halo of golden light is painted with small dots and dashes of lead-tin yellow and ochre, and a similar technique is used for the gold decorations at the sleeves and neck of his robe, which flow over the fabric like staves of music. The hatching of the shadows in Christ’s eyes and the thin horizontal lines of white crossing his irises, which give his expression life, are typical of Bordone’s painting technique, and can also be seen in his Portrait of a Young Woman. Bordone’s approach to the crinkled blue fabric lining Christ’s cloak is similar to that worn by the woman in his A Pair of Lovers – the folds are purely decorative and bear no relation to how the fabric might actually hang. The red of Christ’s robe has faded, making the highlights and shadows now appear rather hard and abrupt.
Paintings of this type were kept in houses, especially in bedrooms. They were also, from an early date, displayed in churches. There is an almost identical version of this painting in the Accademia Carrara in Bergamo. The architectural background is extremely similar to that in Bordone’s Portrait of a Woman with a Squirrel (Städtische Kunstsammlungen, Augsburg).
The painting was a gift to the National Gallery from Mrs Mary Wood and her brother the Revd G. Greenwood in 1901. It had been given to their father, the surgeon Mr Henry Greenwood, by a member of the Sicilian Embassy in thanks for his kindness to a Sicilian lady in 1819. The lady had been taken from her convent in Sicily aged 15 by an English army officer called Captain Soden, married and brought to England. By the time she met Mr Greenwood, Mrs Soden was widowed, diseased and starving with three children. Mr Greenwood went to the Sicilian Embassy to try to help her. The Embassy wrote to Mrs Soden’s father, who was one of the principal nobles of Naples and Sicily, but he said that his daughter was dead to her family. However, the War Office was persuaded to give Mrs Soden a pension as an officer’s widow.
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