A rare and very fine bronze corpus of Christ after a model by Michelangelo, cast ca. 1597-1600 by Juan Bautista Franconio and painted in 1600 by Francisco Pacheco in Seville, Spain. (22 cm, 67 cm [with cross])
The present corpus reproduces a model attributed to Michelangelo. The best known example, lesser in quality, is one on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET).
The association of this corpus with Michelangelo was first brought to light by Manuel Gomez-Moreno (1930-33) who studied the wider circulated casts identified throughout Spain. The attribution to Michelangelo was subsequently followed by John Goldsmith-Phillips (1937) of the MET and again by Michelangelo expert, Charles de Tolnay (1960).
A unique suggestion is that Michelangelo could have made the model of this crucifix for Vittoria Colonna, of whom he was exceedingly fond and with whom he exchanged gifts along with mutual spiritual proclivities. In particular, Vittoria had an interest in the life of St. Bridget, whose vision of Christ closely resembles our sculpture, most notably with Christ’s proper-left leg and foot crossed over his right, an iconography that is incredibly scarce for crucifixes. The suggestion could add sense to Benedetto Varchi’s comment that Michelangelo made a sculpted “nude Christ…he gave to the most divine Marchesa of Pescara (Vittoria Colonna).”
Of that same period, two sketches can be visually linked to our sculpture. Tolnay relates it to a sketch of a Crucified Christ at the Teylers Museum (Inv. A034) of which Paul Joannides comments on its quality as suggestive of preparations for a sculptural work. Joannides also calls attention to a related drawing attributed to Raffaello da Montelupo copying what is believed to be a lost sketch by Michelangelo. Its relationship with our sculpture is apparent. Montelupo, a pupil of Michelangelo’s, returned to Rome to serve him in 1541, assisting with the continued work on the tomb of Pope Julius II, suggesting again an origin for the corpus ca. 1540.
The earliest firm date that can be given to the present corpus is 1574 where it appears as a rather crudely conceived Crucifixion panel, flanked by two mourners in low-relief and integrally cast for use as the bronze tabernacle door to a ciborium now located at the Church of San Lorenzo in Padula. Etched in wax residue on the back of the door is the date, 27 January 1574, indicating the corpus would have at least been available as a model by late 1573. The tabernacle was executed by Jacopo del Duca, a bronze founder and Michelangelo's assistant toward the end of his life.
Constituting another early documented record for our corpus is the mention of it by the Spanish painter Francisco Pacheco (1564?1644) who cited it in his book, Arte de la Pintura, completed in 1638 and published posthumously in 1649. In Pacheco’s manuscript the corpus is already assigned to Michelangelo just 33 years after his death. Pacheco records that a bronze crucifix by Michelangelo was brought to Seville from Rome by the silversmith Juan Bautista Franconio in 1597. Pacheco further documents that on 17 January 1600 he painted a bronze aftercast of the sculpture, prepared by Franconio.
Javier Moya Morales notes the linguistic tense used by Pacheco indicates he painted more than one bronze crucifix, suggesting that several first generation casts were made after the example Franconio brought from Rome. Two identified casts are indicative of this record, our example offered here, and another located at the Grand Ducal Palace of Gandia in Spain. An additional painted cast at the Cuenca Cathedral, though silver, also belongs to this rare group of casts made by Franconio and painted by Pacheco. The wooden crosses accompanying our corpus and the Cuenca cathedral cast follow the type common to Seville around the year 1600 and could have been executed by Pacheco’s regular collaborator of sculpted works, Juan Martinez Montañés’ whose wooden masterpiece, the Christ of the Clemency, Pacheco notes was influenced by this corpus.
In addition to the painted casts, several silver casts of remarkable quality are likewise associated with Franconio’s reproduction of the corpus he brought from Rome. They include examples at the Seville Cathedral, Madrid Palace, Gomez-Moreno Museum and also probably an example belonging to the Valladolid Cathedral.
Confirming our sculpture was likely painted by Pacheco is Pacheco’s own admission that he used an example of the corpus he painted as a model for his 1614-15 painting of Christ on the Cross (Gomez-Moreno Museum). The tones of paint and location of blood on Pacheco’s painting corresponds remarkably with our corpus.
An additional confirmation comes by way of our sculpture’s reproduction in two paintings by Spain’s most successful Renaissance painter, Diego Velazquez. Velazquez was Pacheco’s pupil and son-in-law, and he reproduces a painted cast of the corpus in two portraits of the monastic, Jeronima, completed by him in 1620.
NOTE: Available for purchase in Italy only (Due to a notifica concerning its cultural importance, as adjudged by the Culture Ministry of Italy)
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