Catalogue: The Crucifixion

Figure 1 Unknown Southern Italian School, The Crucifixion

Unknown Southern Italian School

The Crucifixion 17th Century Oil on Canvas

46 x 63cm (in frame 68 x 83cm)

 

 

 

Provenance:

 

The Crucifixion was recently purchased from an auction at R & J Gingell Littlejohn Auctioneers, Sliema, Malta in 2018. The exact provenance before this point remains unknown therefore it is difficult to say for certain how the painting arrived to Malta.

Report Summary:

 

This sombre and morose work depicts a key story in the Catholic faith, when the Son of God, Jesus Christ, was crucified by mankind. The Crucifixion represents the moment after Christ’s death and perfectly captures and expresses the various accounts found in the bible including Matthew 27:45 and John 19:34.

 

This graphic imagery promoted by the Catholic Church is a constant reminder of the suffering of Christ who died for the sins of mankind. Images of the crucified Christ became an important theme during the baroque period due to Roman Catholic counter-reformation efforts.

While the artist of this work remains unknown our research suggests that the work is produced in the style in the 17th century and executed by an artist of the Southern Italian School and was likely commissioned for private devotion.

Figure 1 Unknown Southern Italian School, The Crucifixion

Figure 1 Unknown Southern Italian School, The Crucifixion, 17th Century, Oil on Canvas, 46 x 63cm (in frame 68 x 83cm)

Report:

 

The Crucifixion, by an unknown 17th century artist, is a medium-sized oil painting which depicts the dead Christ nailed to a Latin cross (fig.1). The humble size of the work does give an indication as to why it could have been commissioned. Since the work is not large enough to have been an altar painting, it is likely that The Crucifixion was commissioned by an independent patron exclusively for personal devotion rather than for a church or a public space of worship. This was commonly found in large homes and palaces which would have designated a room in the house as a personal chapel. This is further supported by the fact that the Maltese church often commissioned crucifixion scenes and sculptures to adorn the main altar or apses.1

Stylistic and iconographic analysis, which includes tracing the varying representations of a particular theme and an examination of the techniques used by the artist, is always applied by connoisseurs as a means to infer an approximate date for the work, a tentative place of creation and grounding the work in its cultural context. The figure of the crucified Christ has been interpreted in various ways throughout history, in fact early versions are known to have represented a more triumphant Christ who showed no signs of pain or suffering.2 Stylistic analysis of this work reveals that it likely dates to the seventeenth century which is clear from the artist’s use of chiaroscuro as well as certain compositional choices. This representation is further supported given the greater Baroque context and in particular the Counter- Reformation decrees which were enforced by the Roman Catholic Church as can be seen in the Council of Trent, where the austere and direct representation of crucifixion scenes become the norm.3

The Crucifixion depicts Christ nailed to the cross who is centrally placed on the canvas alone without any figures which are typically associated with the scene. In earlier representations of this theme, Christ is portrayed as being surrounded by his mother, the Virgin Mary as well as Mary of Magdalene and St. John the Evangelist; secondary figures usually consisted of the donors, and other saintly figures.4 Numerous examples dating to the Baroque period have eliminated these figures completely or employed various compositional devices to focus attention onto the figure of Christ. Guido Reni’s (1575-1642) Crucifixion, 1619, for example, similarly represents the solo figure of Christ nailed to the cross (fig. 2). While there are obvious differences between The Crucifixion by Reni and by Our artwork they both represent the significant changes happening in art during the seventeenth century.

Figure 2 Guido Reni, Crucifixion

Figure 2 Guido Reni, Crucifixion, 1619, Oil on Canvas

The dark background present in Our artwork further supports the increasing sombre regime enforced by the Roman Catholic Church through the above-mentioned decrees and whilst there is no clear indication of a geographical location, the representation of this theme strictly represents the verse from Matthew 27:45:

‘From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land’

The dark and ominous background also served to remove any distractions from such a momentous episode from the life of Christ. The same sentiment is echoed in Luke 23:44-45, which reads:

‘It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. For the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.’

A Crucifixion scene which contrasts greatly to Our Crucifixion scene is the work by Bolognese artist Annibale Carracci (1560-1609). Here the artist includes an extensive landscape and an idealised figure of Christ (fig. 3). Christ’s body in Carracci’s version does not display the signs of a tortured, bruised or wounded Christ, rather the intricate landscape in the background removes focus from the gruesome scene at hand.

Figure 3 Annibale Carracci, The Crucifixion

Figure 3 Annibale Carracci, The Crucifixion, c1587-88, Oil on canvas mounted on panel, 81.5 x 61.5cm, Yale University Art Gallery

Thanks to the rigorous documentation of the Crucifixion in the bible, art historians can safely phase out various sequences of this theme as describes in the Gospel according to John 19:34. Here he explains that Christ’s side was pierced by a spear; this gash can be seen on the left- hand side of His corpse of Our work in contrast to Guido Reni’s work (fig. 2).

 

In Our Crucifixion the figure of Christ is depicted in a strictly frontal pose with almost no indication of movement in his body. This stillness contrasts with other Crucifixions where Christ is either writhe with pain or assumes a slight contrapposto position. His head is bowed downwards, as opposed to being tilted to the side and the frontal pose reveals the crown of thorns that adorns his head in a very direct manner. Equally, the loin cloth that Christ wears is draped across his body, instead of being windswept as in other examples. The work is imbued with a quiet atmosphere which only aims to heighten the gravity of the scene in front of us.

Figure 4 Detail of the naively drawn feet from Unknown Southern Italian School, The Crucifixion

Figure 4 Detail of the naively drawn feet from Unknown Southern Italian School, The Crucifixion

 

It is clear that although the artist remains unknown, the work is of good quality. The use of chiaroscuro and the anatomy of the body of Christ (see abdomen and arms) further confirm the artist’s calibre. The skilled artist however struggles to accurately portray the hands and feet of Christ which are rendered in a naïve style that is inconsistent with the rest of the work (fig. 4).

Iconographic analysis of this theme has also taught art historians to pay close attention to subtle details such as the number of nails used to crucify Christ. Two schools have been identified, primarily the one employing three nails and the other, four. Artists who portray the crucified Christ with four nails often rest his feet on a small ledge which aimed to bare some of the weight.

Prominent Spanish art theorist and artist Francisco Pacheco clearly states in his Arte de la Pintura that Christ should be portrayed using four nails, two nails reserved for the hands and two nails reserved for the feet.5 He believed that representing Christ with four nails reflected proper decorum; for this reason several Spanish examples, such as by important artists like

 

 

Diego Velazquez and Francisco Zurbaran, represent Christ crucified with four nails instead of three (fig. 5, fig. 6).6 Other theorists such as Francisco Suárez, believed that it was

Therefore, The Crucifixion which depicts Christ affixed to the cross with three nails instead of four, could point to an Italian influence on the artist rather than Spanish.

Figure 5 Diego Velazquez, Christ Crucified
Figure 5 Diego Velazquez, Christ Crucified, 1632, Oil on Canvas, 249 x 170 cm
Figure-6-Francisco-de-Zurbarans
Figure 6 Francisco de Zurbarán, The Crucifixion, 1627, Oil on canvas, 290.3 x 165.5cm
Figure 4 Detail of the naively drawn feet from Unknown Southern Italian School, The Crucifixion

Figure 7 Detail of the missing inscription on the scroll from Unknown Southern Italian School, The Crucifixion

The second peculiarity in this artwork can be seen in the topmost part of the register. In all crucifixion scenes one will notice a plaque fixed to the top of the cross with the acronym ‘INRI’ or its signifying inscription ‘Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews’.8 The awkward placement of this notice in Our artwork suggests it was added at a later stage, by the hands of another artist. The lack of technical insight, both in terms of perspective and design greatly contrast with the overall standard of the artwork. Could this be the result of a resized canvas? If so, it would be safe to assume that original artist might have included a plaque which was removed in the process.

Word Count of the Essay (for our purposes only): 1513 Condition:

It is clear that the work has suffered from over painting during an ill-informed restoration exercise. This is present particularly in the cross and the scroll at the top of the work. It does not seem that the painting has been exposed to direct sunlight however, there are watermarks on the verso of the painting which indicates that the painting was kept in a humid environment. There is puckering in the canvas, particularly on the left side of the work which has caused the paint to crack. Finally, there is also a laceration at the top of the cross.

Artemisia’s Recommendations:

 

Artemisia always recommends minimal intervention and always advocates reversible, professional methods of restoration. In an ideal scenario, one would study the artwork further by commissioning a scientific analysis of the work in order to undercover and identify any

 

additional features which might supplement our understanding of the work; an example of which is the artwork’s hard-to-decipher landscape. We also encourage the removal of the

visible over paint which will bring to light the artist’s original work.

 

You might also want to consider the removal of old lining, re-touching using reversible paint, repairing the original canvas along with infilling of losses and disinfesting the strainer frame. In addition, we also recommend the application of non-yellowing and reversible protective layer.

We strongly recommend preventative measures as part of proper conservation where possible. Additionally we advise for the painting to be exhibited inside a controlled environment and cleaned infrequently. Cleaning should only be carried out gently with a dry feather duster.

Valuation:

Artnet – crucifixions

1 Debono, Sandro 2005 Imago Dei: Sculpted Images of the Crucifix in the Art of Early Modern Malta Valletta: Superintendence of Cultural Heritage; 16.

2 Hewitt, Joseph William 1932 ‘The Use of Nails in the Crucifixion’ The Harvard Theological Review, 25, 1 (Jan., 1932), 29-45; 30.

3 The rules and regulations of art were debated during the 25th session in the decree titled ‘On the Invocation, Veneration, and Relics, of Saints, and on Sacred Images’ which can be read here: http://www.thecounciloftrent.com/ch25.htm (Accessed on: 31.07.2018). For more information about the Council of Trent see: Murray, Linda, Murray, Peter 2014 The Oxford Companion to Christian Art & Architecture 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 139.4 Sorabella, Jean 2008 The Crucifixion and Passion of Christ in Italian Painting New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/pass/hd_pass.htm (Accessed on: 29.05.2018).

5 This is outlined in the section titled ‘Inmaculata vestigial Christi diris confixa claris’ in Pacheco, Francisco 1641 Arte de la Pintura.

6 A detailed analysis of these two works and Pacheco’s influence on Spanish crucifixions can been found in: Lahuaerta, Juan Jose 2014/2015 ‘The Crucifixions of Velazquez and Zurbaran’ RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics 65-66 (2014/2015), 259-274.

7 Murray, Murray, 2014; 139.

8 Schiller, Gertrude 1972 Iconography of Christian Art Vol. 2 Lund Humphries; 88. The inscription is also mentioned in the bible, according to John 19:19 ‘Pilate had the notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”.’ The inscription is also mentioned in Luke 23:38, who writes ‘There was a written notice above him, which read ‘This is the King of the Jews”.’

FigureDescription & Reference
Fig.1Unknown Southern Italian School, The Crucifixion, 17th Century, Oil on Canvas, 46 x 63cm (in frame 68 x 83cm)
Fig.2Guido Reni, Crucifixion, 1619, Oil on Canvas
Fig.3Annibale Carracci, The Crucifixion, c1587-88, Oil on canvas mounted on panel, 81.5 x 61.5cm, Yale University Art Gallery
Fig.4Detail of the naively drawn feet from Unknown Southern Italian School, The Crucifixion
Fig.5Diego Velazquez, Christ Crucified, 1632, Oil on Canvas, 249 x 170 cm
Fig.6Francisco de Zurbarán, The Crucifixion, 1627, Oil on canvas, 290.3 x 165.5cm
Fig.7Detail of the missing inscription on the scroll from Unknown Southern Italian School, The Crucifixion

D’ Agostino, Paola 2014 Reconsidering the “Crucifixion” by Annibale Carracci’ Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin, Recent Acquisitions (2014), 64-69

Debono, Sandro 2005 Imago Dei: Sculpted Images of the Crucifix in the Art of Early Modern Malta

Valletta: Superintendence of Cultural Heritage

Hewitt, Joseph William 1932 ‘The Use of Nails in the Crucifixion’ The Harvard Theological Review,

25, 1 (Jan., 1932), 29-45

Lahuaerta, Juan Jose 2014/2015 ‘The Crucifixions of Velazquez and Zurbaran’ RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics 65-66 (2014/2015), 259-274

Murray, Linda, Murray, Peter 2014 The Oxford Companion to Christian Art & Architecture 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Schiller, Gertrude 1972 Iconography of Christian Art Vol. 2 Lund Humphries

Sorabella, Jean 2008 The Crucifixion and Passion of Christ in Italian Painting New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/pass/hd_pass.htm (Accessed on: 29.05.2018)

Baroque: A term generally used to describe art in Europe between c.1600 and c.1750. Baroque is a term loosely applied to European art from the end of the 16th century to the mid- 18th century, with the latter part of this period falling under the alternative stylistic designation of Late Baroque. The painting of the Baroque period is so varied that no single set of stylistic criteria can be applied to it. However, it is often referred to as dramatic, triumphant and exuberant.

Composition: is the placement or arrangement of visual elements in a work of art, particularly a painting.

Controlled Environment: is a space that buffers external environs, temperature fluctuations. Artworks in a controlled environment should be exhibited in stable humidity and temperatures and kept away from direct sunlight and high intensity lighting.

Council of Trent: is the 19th Ecumenical Council, held at Trento, in the Tyrol, between 1545 and 1563. Its importance lay in defining the differences between the Roman Church and the various Protestant bodies of the 16th century, as well as imposing new discipline on the Roman Church itself, especially concerning clerical education. For the arts, the most

 

significant session was the last (3-4 Dec. 1536), when the decision concerning iconoclasm was reconfirmed.

Counter Reformation: sometimes also referred to as the Catholic Reformation, was the reaction of the Roman Church to the later 15th-century demands for reform which culminated in the Lutheran and Calvinist movements from 1517 onwards. In 1512-17 the Fifth Lateran Council had made some attempt at internal reform, and, from the 1520s new religious Orders also combated Lutheran ideas, but the real impetus came from the Jesuits after 1540, and from the Council of Trent, which held 25 sessions between 1545 and 1563, introducing far- reaching reforms, most of which endured until the 1960s. The Jesuits and Tridentine Reformers were both deeply convinced of the importance of the visual arts and music, and from the mid-16th to the mid-17th century they revitalised religious art, encouraging the formation of the Baroque style.

Chiaroscuro: means the balance of light and shade in the picture, and the skill shown by the artist in the management of shadows. The word tends to be used mainly with reference to painters like Rembrandt or Caravaggio, whose works are predominantly dark in tone.

Diego Velazquez (1599-1660): Diego Velazquez was a seventeenth century Spanish painter. He was court painter to the leading artist in the court of King Philip IV, and one of the key figures associated with the Spanish Golden Age. He was tutored by another Spanish artist, Francisco Pacheco in his hometown of Seville. He is best known for his portraits of the royal family, including his most notable work titled Las Meninas. However, early in his career he also produced religious work.

Francisco Pacheco (1564-1644): Francisco Pacheco was a Spanish painter who worked primarily in Seville. Apart from being an artist he is also known for writing his book El Arte de la Pintura which outlined Spanish iconography for artists, of particular importance is his description of the Immaculate Conception a subject which is synonymous with Spanish art during this time period. He was the master and father-in-law to another Spanish artist Diego Velazquez.

Francisco Suárez (1548 – 1617): Francisco Suárez was a Spanish Jesuit priest, philosopher and theologian. He is known as one of the leading figures of the School of Salamanca movement, and generally regarded among the greatest scholastics after Thomas Aquinas. His work is considered a turning point in the history of second scholasticism, marking the transition from its Renaissance to its Baroque phases.

 

Iconography: Iconography is the identification of symbolic figures of saints, for example a man with an X-shaped cross can be identified as the figure of St. Andrew.

Joannes Molanus (1533-1585): Joannes Molanus was a Professor of Theology at Leuven who wrote an important book which influenced counter reformation iconography. The book titled De Picturis et Imaginibus Sacris (Concerning Holy Pictures and Images, 1570) was revised over 20 years later and reprinted as De Historia Sanctarum Imaginum (Concerning the History of Holy Images, 1594). His work aimed to counter Protestant iconoclasm which was prominent at the time in Northern Europe.

Latin Cross: A long vertical plank intersected by a shorter horizontal plank at about two- thirds of the way up. This is in contrast to a Greek Cross which has arms of equal length or the X shaped cross which was used to crucify St. Andrew.