This painting represents one of the most cherished and sympathetic themes in early 17th century Bolognese painting, as confirmed by the great success of the subject, repeated countless times. The canvas depicts the face of Christ, crowned by a wreath of thorns from which tears and blood are flowing. The sad gaze and purplish lips express those feelings that were meant to be aroused in the devout population.
Salvator Rosa, 63.5 x 62 x 6 cm
Rome, Borghese Collection, 1650 (Manilli, 1650); Inv. 1693, room II, no. 93; Inv. 1790, room II, no. 15; Inventario Fidecommissario, 1833, p. 7; purchased by the Italian State, 1902.
This painting is mentioned for the first time as part of the Borghese Collection in 1650, described by Iacomo Manilli, “the small painting […] of the Saviour is by Annibale Carracci.” This attribution was confirmed by Carlo Cesare Malvasia (1678) and by the compiler of the Borghese inventory in 1693. Later listed as a work by Ludovico Carracci (Inv. 1790), in 1928 the painting was likened to the Mary Magdalen (inv. 48), the dimensions of which were nearly identical to The Saviour’s, so that the two canvases were thought to have been conceived to hang together, a hypothesis discarded by Paola della Pergola in 1955. The scholar thought, in fact, that the two heads, copies of original works mentioned by several sources, had been put together at a later time, their dimensions modified for the occasion, as the difference in the figures’ proportions seems to suggest. With these considerations in mind, Della Pergola, then director of the Museo Borghese, attributed the paintings to a follower of Agostino Carracci, a position she partially revised in 1964, when she suggested that the painting may have been the one described in the Borghese inventory of 1693.
The work was clearly affected by Correggio’s Ecce Homo (London, National Gallery), a small painting that was once part of the collection of the Prati family in Parma, where Agostino Carracci saw it in 1587 and was inspired to produce a very well-known engraving. In fact, it is clear that the Bolognese was greatly impressed, further proof of which is offered by the Borghese tablet produced by his workshop, exalting the “stirrings of the soul” – in this case the Saviour’s – that could provoke the observer’s emotional participation.