Colnaghi Foundation Journal 02 - Page 77

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
doubt about its authenticity. Its entry into the convent
of San Plácido in Madrid – given by Jerónimo de
Villanueva, Protonotary of Aragon and trusted aid
of the conde duque de Olivares – is controversial: as I
have explained elsewhere, it was an act of reparation
by Villanueva in 1633, atoning for his role in doctrinal
misdemeanours involving the monastery that resulted
in the intervention of the Inquisition, which also went
after Villanueva himself.44
The similarities between Velázquez’s small work
of 1631 and those by Pacheco from 1614-1615 are
notable. The figure of Christ is frontal and vertical,
his head falling to the side without tilting; the feet,
joined at the heels, are close together. Christ hangs less
heavily in the smaller version, his resplendent head
hardly touching the crossbeam – less so than in those
of Pacheco. The bending of the fingers is similar as are
the ledge and beams of the Cross, which is painted to
show the grain and knots. The titulus is placed at the
very top, as in Pacheco’s works, but it lacks the HIC
EST. There are many rivulets of blood and a dark
background, as in the paintings by Pacheco.
Turning now to the treatments of this theme by Alonso
Cano, in order to understand better their individual
characteristics, it is worth examining them one at a
time, especially as the datings proposed for these works
are by no means definitive.
Fig. 9 / Diego Velázquez,
Dead Christ, oil on canvas,
250 x 170 cm, Madrid,
Museo Nacional del Prado.
Fig. 10 / Alonso Cano, Dead
Christ on the Cross, oil
on canvas, 248 x 166 cm,
Madrid, previously Gregorio
Diego Curto Collection.
Fig. 11 / Alonso Cano,
Dead Christ on the Cross,
oil on canvas, 242 x 160
cm, Madrid, Real Academia
de Bellas Artes de San
to fill up the empty space; a surprising detail is that
the parchment has begun to come away and only part
of the HIC EST is visible. Another difference from
Pacheco is that the ledge does not have a trapezoidal
piece. At the foot of the Cross is a skull, as in the
painting from El Coronil. The most distinctive aspect
is the landscape with ill-defined buildings suggestive
perhaps of Jerusalem, woods, vegetation, mountains,
and a blueish horizon with clouds in the upper half.
Although this landscape is puzzling, it may be explained
by his stay in Rome, prefiguring – with its bands of
colour, from the light foreground to the darker area
about the crossbeam – the landscapes of his later works.
The second Dead Christ by Velázquez is a large
work (fig. 9), like those of Zurbarán. It has rightly
attracted great praise and there has never been any
a) Dead Christ on the Cross (fig. 10) (Madrid, formerly
in the Gregorio Diego Curto collection): 45 Wethey
dated this painting to 1643, considering it a donation
by the conde duque de Olivares to the Dominican
nuns of Loeches, whose convent he had funded. His
dating was based on the fact that at this time Philip IV
granted Olivares’s petition to retire from Court. The
composition features three nails with the right foot on
top of the left. Frontal and upright, Christ’s head tilts to
the left, at a slightly greater angle than in Velázquez’s
depictions. The Saviour’s thumbs, on the other hand,
are positioned in a very similar manner. The body
hangs less, and the head is higher up on the crossbeam.
The narrow loincloth is arranged horizontally, with
a large section floating out to the left. The titulus
reads simply INRI – which, in the only known image,
published by Wethey, appears to be repeated three
times. The Cross is rustic, made from rounded beams.
b) Dead Christ on the Cross (fig. 11) (Madrid, Real
Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando): Wethey
noted that the painting belonged to Godoy in 1808
and was sent to Paris in 1813, whence it returned in
1815 and was given to the Real Academia.46 Álvarez
Lopera doubted that this was the painting belonging
to Godoy (which came from the Discalced Carmelite
convent of San Hermenegildo in Madrid), as it was
already hanging in the Academia in 1810 when
Godoy’s paintings and others destined for France were
being prepared for removal.47 He concluded that the
painting in fact came from the Benedictine monastery
of San Martín in Madrid, citing Ponz,48 Bosarte,49
Ceán,50 and the Conde de Maule51 who had seen it at
the Academia. Wethey dated the work to ca. 1646 in
relation to other paintings by Cano – the Noli me Tangere
in Budapest and Dead Christ Sustained by an Angel at the
Prado.52 Álvarez Lopera believed it could have been
painted ca. 1640-1643, before the work in Loeches.
It should also be noted that Cano lived in the calle
de las Hileras, in front of the Benedictine monastery
(his house and the monastery situated, respectively, on
blocks 390 and 392 of the Planimetría) from September
1641 to June 1644,53 which tends to support this
The Real Academia composition depicts the four nails.
Christ is frontal and vertical, hanging more heavily than
in the Loeches version. His head is below the crossbeam
as in the painting by Velázquez in San Plácido, which
it also resembles in terms of the inclination of the head
and placement of the fingers. Both ends of the loincloth
drift to the left, partly revealing the rope which holds it
up and leaving the body largely uncovered. The titulus
features the acronym INRI, with full-stops between
each letter and a short line in the stroke of the R.


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