After being condemned to death by Pontius Pilate, Christ was taken away by soldiers, crowned with thorns and called ‘King of the Jews’ (Matthew 27: 26–31). Although all the Gospels describe how Christ was led away to be crucified, only John tells us that he carried his own cross (John 19: 16–17).
Blood drips down Christ’s forehead, which is pierced by the thorns with which he has been crowned, as he carries his cross to Calvary to be crucified. We are placed in the position of an onlooker in the crowd as he passes by. The drama, pathos and intimacy of the moment is heightened by the very close focus on Christ’s face and the extremes of light and dark.
The painting does not seem to have been cut and was probably always intended to be this size. It is therefore probably not a fragment of a larger picture but an independent devotional work.
Here we see Christ carrying his cross to Calvary to be crucified. Blood drips down his forehead, which is pierced by the thorns with which he has been crowned by his tormentors. We are placed in the position of an onlooker in the crowd as he passes by. The drama and pathos of the moment and our sense of intimacy with Christ is heightened by the very close focus on his face and the extremes of light and dark. He does not look at us but downward, as though contemplating his fate. Only a very small part of the wooden cross is included and the artist relies on our familiarity with this type of image to enable us to identify what it is.
The painting does not seem to have been cut down and was probably always intended to be this size – the paint at the top and bottom does not quite extend to the edges and at the left it goes over them. This painting is therefore probably not a fragment of a larger picture but an independent devotional work.
The picture is painted on wooden panel and has suffered extensive damage. The darkest paint, used for Christ’s hair and in the deep shadows, is cracked and flaking, particularly in the lower parts of Christ’s hair and the background beyond his halo. However something of the original quality of the work can still be seen in Christ’s beard, where fine hairs are brushed and scratched into the thick scumbled paint and lie curled over the edges of the softly modelled and expressive lips.
Bust-length paintings of Christ carrying his 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 Giorgione and Titian, which was celebrated for the miracles it worked. This painting, now in the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, Venice, also has a very dark, almost black, background.
This subject was also treated in close-up by Altobello Melone and Giampietrino, influenced by a silver-point drawing of the subject by Leonardo now in the Accademia, Venice. Sodoma, like many contemporary painters working in Lombardy, adopted Leonardo’s style, emulating his smoky painterly effect. The painting looks like his work, but it is hard to be certain given its condition.
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