Every year I review different artistic portrayals of Jesus Christ for Easter. Gotta put all those hours studying art history to work.
I try to do three to four images, but I only have one scheduled this year. Even being quarantined and sheltering at home, Easter has snuck up on me.
Cristo Crucificado by Diego Velazquez
Today is Good Friday, the day that Jesus was crucified, only to be resurrected three days later. The piece I choose today is Cristo Crucificado by Diego Velazquez, painted in 1632
Diego Velazquez was the the court painter for King Phillip IV of Spain and Portugal. Because of the King’s patronage both men became famous and noteworthy for the creations that came out of this relationship. In fact, many artists from Manet to Picasso studied his artwork and it influenced their style and works.
While Velazquez is known for his court portraiture, the artwork known to be his “greatest” religious piece is the Cristo Crucificado. The origins of the commission for the painting are unknown-but before we get into the art, let’s look at the text:
“So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. 17 Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). 18 There they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle.
19 Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews. 20 Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. 21 The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.”
22 Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”John 19:16-22
“At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”)…Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink.”–Mark 15: 33-36
“When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”–John 19: 30
So looking at the art work, it is set after the death of Christ when the spirit has left his body. Christ hangs on the cross, four nails pinning both arms and feet, his arms slightly drooped as he hangs from the cross, Pilate’s notice above his head, and his head bowed with hair falling down.
Velazquez had just returned from a trip to Italy before painting this and we can see evidence of influence of the artwork he would have seen there. A single scene with no other story elements, the use of shadow and light to focus strongly on the main subject, and the perspective that you are right there in front of the action watching what is happening is very reminiscent of Caravaggio‘s works.
We also see the influence of the Roman artwork by depicting Jesus in a contraposto pose, a particular pose that was thought to be the most naturalistic way of posing a body and heavily used throughout the ancient times and the Renaissance. I think that Velazquez was borrowing the ideas and styles that the Romans used to honor their important heroes and Caesars and decided to use them in the image of Christ, in the moment he is at his strongest (sacrificing himself taking the sins of all the world) and weakest (after giving up his spirit).
The body is also very nude, his waist-cloth extremely small in comparison to other depictions of the cross, the artist probably influenced again by the images of powerful figures in Rome depicted nude, along with wanting to reinforce the sacrifice being made and his body broken, blood spilled, for us.
Velazquez’s painting style uses lighting and shadow to visualize the drama of this moment in a single image and the perspective chosen makes the audience feel as if they are a part of the action, almost as witnessing the sacrifice firsthand.
Well, I hope you all have a great Good Friday and Easter, however you all celebrate it.
For more crucifixion depictions, go to With That, He Bowed His Head and Gave Up His Spirit
For more depictions of Christ, go to He Was Taken Up Before Their Very Eyes
For more art, go to Paris Street; Rainy Day