Colnaghi Foundation Journal 02 - Page 81

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
The overview provided of Pacheco’s Crucifixions, as
well as those by Velázquez and Zurbarán, is intended
to clarify this issue. No Crucifixions are known from
Cano’s period in Seville – in which he produced little
painting – and the examples by Pacheco are from
very different dates, except for the 1637 painting,
which Cano could not have known. From the time he
arrived in Madrid in 1638, he was in close contact with
Velázquez and undoubtedly saw the two examples by
this artist discussed above. Following the fire at Buen
Retiro in 1640, Velázquez and Cano travelled together
through Old Castile in search of paintings to replace
those that had been damaged; I date this journey to
the final months of 1641 and the first of 1642.61 As I
have proposed, the Crucifixion for San Martín (today in
Madrid, Real Academia) must have been painted when
Cano was a neighbour of the monastery. This narrows
its dates to mid-1642 to June 1644, taking into account
the above-mentioned trip. The influence of Velázquez’s
painting of 1631 formerly in San Plácido is evident,
despite minor differences in the titulus and movement
of the loincloth.
Although it is half a vara shorter in height than the
San Martín Dead Christ, the painting under study
here resembles this work very closely. For this reason
we are inclined to date it to before the painter’s
escape to Valencia in June 1644, even if it cannot
be discounted that he made it just after his return to
court, documented in September 1645. Cano retains
the lettering of the acronym on the titulus, but gathers
up the loincloth. He brings the feet closer together,
like Velázquez, and even the resplendence of the head
resembles the latter’s composition more closely. The
colour and structure of the landscape also recall that
in Velázquez’s small Christ of 1631; the little leaves are
similar to those in Philip IV Hunting Wild Boar (London,
National Gallery), which Velázquez had finished
in 1638 for the Torre de la Parada; the little trees
foreshadow those depicted by Cano in the Prado and
the Academia in Granada canvases.
Fig. 13 / Alonso Cano,
Christ of Lecároz,
polychrome wood
sculpture, 185 x 155 cm,
Pamplona, Capuchin
monastery of San
It is noteworthy that the measurements of the
picture presented here (203.7 x 126.2 cm) coincide
exactly with a painting of 2 ½ x 1 ½ varas listed in
the 1726 will of the painter and architect Teodoro
Ardemans, which was left to his executor Juan
Gregorio de la Fuente.62 I do not know of any other
documentation concerning a Dead Christ by Cano with
these measurements. Despite this considerable size, it
might have been a private commission for a house or
oratory. By the time Ardemans was born, the painter
had already left court in 1662, returning definitively to
Granada, but the work could have been acquired from
its first owner at a later date.
It is difficult to date the other examples by Cano
featuring three nails. The version which arrived at the
Prado in 1998 is close to those discussed above, so it
may have been painted in Madrid between 1645 and
1651 – making it earlier than the ones in Granada
and the Lecároz sculpture. The most difficult example
in this respect is the canvas thought to come from
Loeches: if it was commissioned by the conde duque,
it would date to his first years in Madrid, but the three
nails on a dark background as well as the extended
loincloth suggest a later execution and thus complicate
the dating.
Cano’s Crucifixions – in addition to having the
frontality and verticality of those by Velázquez – tend
to reduce the stomach in relation to the thoracic cage,
a feature clearly seen in the unpublished work studied
here. The blood flows in a natural manner, running
down from the nails and staining the hands and arms. It
streams down the stem of the Cross beneath the ledge,
as well as from the wound in the side to the loincloth,
staining the inner leg. The face of Christ, with its
straight nose, beard and hair falling heavily to the right,
resembles the other Crucifixions by Cano, especially the
version in the Academia de San Fernando.
I will not enter here into the usual discussion of the
drama and emotion, which these works incite. The
careful modelling, the realism of the nails and blood,
and the solitude evoked by the backgrounds, were
clearly moving enough to awaken the sorrow and
profound devotion sought by Cano’s clients.


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