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Christ on the Cross

Manner of Van Dyck Antoon

(Antwerp 1599 - London 1641)

This painting may have entered the family collection through the purchases made by Marcantonio IV Borghese in 1783. It derives from the famous original by Anton van Dyck, which, as is well known, was reproduced many times. Like the original, the Borghese canvas depicts Christ on the cross. According to critics, the work was executed by an artist of the workshop of the Dutch master or by one of his many followers.

 


Object details

Inventory
268
Location
Date
First half of 17th century
Classification
Period
Medium
oil on canvas
Dimensions
cm 86 x 58
Frame

Salvator Rosa, 99.4 x 76 x 7 cm

Provenance

(?) Rome, purchased by Marcantonio IV Borghese, 1783 (Della Pergola 1959); Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese 1833, p. 13. Purchased by Italian state, 1902.

Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1804 Francesco Popive (?)
  • 1950 Augusto Cecconi Principi (cleaning)
  • 2008 Laura Cibrario, Fabiola Jatta (restoration of painting and frame)

Commentary

In the view of Paola della Pergola (1959), this work – together with many others by foreign artists – entered the Borghese Collection as part of the purchases made by Prince Marcantonio IV Borghese. While her thesis is no doubt credible, it lacks supporting documentary evidence. If we exclude this hypothesis, then, the first certain mention of the canvas dates to 1833, when the Inventario Fidecommissario listed it as an autograph work by Anton van Dyck. Giovanni Morelli (1892) questioned this attribution, proposing that it was rather a product of the Dutch master’s workshop. For his part, Adolfo Venturi (1893), while not completely persuaded that the work in question was by Van Dyck, pointed to a passage in Giovan Pietro Bellori’s biographies which mentions a ‘Christ on the Cross’ with his eyes directed toward the sky, executed by the Dutch artist in Rome for Cardinal Robert Bellarmine (Le Vite 1672, p. 152). Yet we must question the accuracy of Bellori’s statement: Bellarmine died in September 1621, before Van Dyck arrived in Italy (see Schaeffer 1909). In fact, all subsequent critics (Longhi 1928; Van Puyvelde 1950; Della Pergola 1959) have doubted the credibility of the biographer’s claim, while at the same time maintaining that the Borghese canvas is not an autograph work but rather a product of his workshop.

According to Della Pergola (1959), who published the painting as in the ‘manner of Anthonis van Dick’, the iconography of this Christ derives from Peter Paul Rubens. Van Dyck familiarised Italy with Rubens’s style through works held today at the Accademia in Venice, the Palazzo Reale of Genoa, the Museo di Capodimonte in Naples and Villa Albani in Rome (indeed the exemplar in the last-named collection is believed to be closest to the work in question: see Della Pergola 1959). Della Pergola further maintained that the Borghese composition was by an Italian follower of Van Dyck, a view that has been accepted by subsequent critics and confirmed by both Chiara Stefani (in Galleria Borghese 2000) and Kristina Herrmann Fiore (2006).

The painting depicts Christ still alive on the cross. He is naked to the waist, riveted to the two planks of wood by four nails – two through his hands and two through his feet. This latter detail was in fact much in vogue in the Netherlands: unlike their European colleagues, Dutch painters were reluctant to adopt what today is considered the more classical representation, namely a single nail for both feet; perhaps they believed that their preferred motif lent the scene greater dramatic effect and pathos.

Antonio Iommelli  




Bibliography
  • J. Guiffrey, Antoine van Dyck, Sa vìe et san œuvre, Paris 1882, p. 248;
  • G. Piancastelli, Catalogo dei quadri della Galleria Borghese, in Archivio Galleria Borghese, 1891, p. 408;
  • G. Morelli, Italian Painters. The Borghese and Doria Pamphili Galleries, London 1892, p. 248;
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 141;
  • A. Muñoz, La Galleria Borghese in Roma, Roma 1909, pp. 5, 8;
  • E. Schaeffer, Van Dyck, Stuttgart-Leipzig 1909, p. 499;
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle Gallerie Italiane, I, La R. Galleria Borghese, Roma 1928, p. 201;
  • G. Cantalamessa, Note manoscritte al Catalogo di A. Venturi del 1893, Arch. Gall. Borghese, 1911-1912, n. 268;
  • L. van Puyvelde, La Peinture Flamande à Rome, Bruxelles 1950, p. 175;
  • P. della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese in Roma, Roma 1951, p. 49;
  • P. della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, II, Roma 1959, p. 162, n. 232;
  • C. Stefani, in P. Moreno, C. Stefani, Galleria Borghese, Milano 2000, p. 372;
  • K. Herrmann Fiore, Galleria Borghese Roma scopre un tesoro. Dalla pinacoteca ai depositi un museo che non ha più segreti, San Giuliano Milanese 2006, p. 91.