Colnaghi Foundation Journal 02 - Page 71

A LO NSO CA NO / A new Dead Christ on the Cross
A LON SO CA N O / A new Dead Christ on the Cross
to this fact, which makes identification difficult. It is,
nevertheless, of fundamental importance, hence our
reference to the fact of his death in the painting’s title.
Pacheco wrote his Arte de la Pintura over many years; the
original manuscript is conserved in the Instituto Valencia
de Don Juan in Madrid and the first edition was produced
posthumously in 1649.12 In the two chapters which
end the text – XV and XVI of the third book – he
deals with representation of the Crucified Christ.13 He
entitles chapter XV, “En favor de la pintura de los cuatro
clavos con que fue crucificado Cristo nuestro redentor” (In favour
of painting the four nails with which Christ our redeemer
was crucified). The chapter consists of several letters from
Francisco de Rioja, written in 1619, and a text by Pacheco
himself dating to 1620. At the outset Rioja explains
that his discourse in defence of the four nails has been
dedicated to the painter “because he executes this with
such felicity in the images which he paints.” He then starts
a long account citing numerous ancient authors, many of
them saints, with Latin and even Greek texts that refer to
the four nails. He ends again referring to Pacheco who:
... was the first in these days in Spain to
return to the old use in some images of
Christ, which he has painted, with four
nails, in accordance with everything said
by the ancient authors; because he paints
the cross with four extremes and with the
ledge where the feet are nailed together.
The figure appears to be standing; his face
majestic and decorous, with no ugly grimace
or decomposition, and thus appropriate to
the sovereign greatness of Christ our Lord.14
Fig. 2 / Juan Martínez
Montañés, Christ of Mercy,
polychrome wood, 190 cm,
Seville Cathedral.
Fig. 3 / After Albrecht Dürer,
Crucifixion, engraving, 32
x 22.6 cm, London, British
Fig. 4 / Albrecht Dürer,
Crucifixion, 1523,
metalpoint on blue-green
prepared paper with white
heightening, 41.3 x 30 cm,
Paris, Musée du Louvre.
the seventeenth century, is the number of nails which
fixed Christ to the Cross. The painting published here
features in this debate, as it belongs to the model known
as “de cuatro clavos” (“with four nails”), less common than
representations in which only three nails are used (with
a single one hammered through both feet). Amongst
the painters who produced images of Christ featuring
four nails are Pacheco and Velázquez, another apparent
confirmation of their close relationship to Cano.
I start this analysis by pointing out that the image studied
here is of the dead Christ. This status does not depend
on his eyes being closed, but rather on the wound in
his side, as described in the Gospel according to Saint John,
John being a witness to the event.11 Few authors allude
Pacheco’s response is full of new arguments and
additional citations, including the views of the Jesuit
cardinal Roberto Belarmino,15 whose work had
been published in Rome in 1618. He continues by
citing sculptures and paintings from many periods
representing four nails. Amongst the contemporary
works, he refers to a painting (now lost) by Antonio
Mohedano for Doctor Álvaro Pizaño de Palacios,
canon of Antequera. He also mentions the Cristo de
la Clemencia (in Seville Cathedral) by Juan Martínez
Montañés (fig. 2), which Mateo Vázquez de Leca,
Archdeacon of Carmona, gave to the charterhouse of
Santa María de las Cuevas, specifying in the contract
of 1603 that Christ should be shown alive with his eyes
open and head inclined. Although there are four nails,
the feet are, however, crossed and there is no ledge,
features which distinguish it from many examples by
Pacheco, Velázquez and Cano. It is also exceptional in
featuring a titulus (inscription) in Hebrew, Greek, and
Latin, as discussed further below.
The passage dedicated by Pacheco to Dürer is also of
considerable interest:
“Albrecht Dürer, who was an extremely
diligent, learned and devout craftsman,
drew nearly a hundred years ago a Crucifix
that I found in a book of things by his hand,
which belonged to our Catholic King Philip
II, with four nails and a ledge, just like the
ones which I paint.”16
As I have observed elsewhere,17 Panofsky argued, on
the basis of a pen drawing depicting a Calvary from
1521, that Dürer had planned an engraving of the
Crucifixion, known only from posthumous prints pulled
from two copper plates that survived the artist: the first
was supposedly engraved, but left unfinished by the
artist himself;18 the second – for which Dürer evidently
executed studies – was dated 1523. Reproducing
an impression of this engraving conserved in the
British Museum in London (fig. 3), Benito Navarette
discussed in detail its influence on Pacheco, and later
Velázquez, Cano, Zurbarán and, ultimately, Goya.19
Noting Pacheco’s admiration for Dürer, Navarette drew
attention to another paragraph by the Spaniard on the
German master which had, it seems, gone unnoticed:
“…and our very prudent monarch Philip II
esteemed his drawings very much. I saw one
by his hand from a book which belonged to his
Majesty, worthy of the highest veneration.”20
In my opinion, it is possible to go one step further,
specifying that the drawing to which Pacheco referred
must be the one in the Musée du Louvre (fig.4), which
Panofsky considered to be a study for the unfinished
engraving. In this work Christ appears on his own –
corresponding to Pacheco’s reference to the Crucifix
rather than to a Crucifixion (which would include
multiple figures) – and it is a drawing, as mentioned by
Pacheco on two occasions, rather than a print. Christ is
attached to the Cross by four nails, and it is just visible
through the legs as is the niche on which appears the
date of 1523. 21 In both the engraving and the drawing,
Christ is still alive, but this did not especially interest
Pacheco, who referred only to the number of nails.


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