The Crucified Christ

Inventory Number: 42383


The Crucified Christ, sculpted in wood and depicted with exquisite finesse, arrived at the Vatican Museums without the original cross to which He would have been nailed. Donated to the Vatican Museums in 1976 by Paul VI (Montini, 1963-1978), it was a purchase (along with several other wooden medieval and renaissance sculptures) from the Milanese antique dealer, Nella Longari.

The Crucifix is portrayed according to the iconography of Christus patiens, or Christ dead and hung on the cross with three nails, with His feet overlapping and pierced with a single nail. Throughout the course of the middle ages, this typology replaced that of the older Christus triumphans, where Christ was portrayed alive as victor over death and usually nailed to the cross with four nails.

Christ’s head rests gently on His left shoulder, framed by long hair, minutely sculpted and distinguishable as subtle brown locks. Delicate lines are painted one by one along the neck, above which the facial hair are carefully modeled. On the head of Christ the crown of thorns is sculpted out of two intertwined branches , which today have lost almost all their thorns. Christ’s arms are original, but were crudely reattached to the shoulders in the past so that one arm is now separated from the bust. The original hands, which are pierced by nails, are greatly damaged with several fingers missing. Dark stripes of blood run from Christ’s pierced palms, along His arms, and to His elbows. His body is slender with the bust slightly tilted. The ribs and the sternum emerge delicately from the chest, accentuated by the position of the raised arms; from the wounded side spurts out a profuse stream of dark, red blood. Beneath the stomach a loincloth of intersecting strips is tied, the cloth arranged in a fan with thick folds on either side. The fabric is decorated with gold stripes on a white background and, in the rear section, flowers stylized in gold. Christ’s legs are pulled together and laid softly, with the feet overlapping. The legs are greatly damaged, especially above the right foot.

The face expresses a contained suffering and the body is constructed realistically. The design does not draw attention to the muscular structure and the anatomical details of the ribs, the epigastric arch, and the sternal bone that appear only slightly from the surface of the skin, without significant straining.

The fragility of the modeling and the realism contained in the anatomy of this Christ suggest that the artist may have undergone training in the cultural and stylistic environment of the Veneto-Padano territory in the first half of the fourteen hundreds. It is likely the artist was influenced by the harmonious models of Giovanni Bellini and the realistic models of Christ by Andrea Mantegna. This piece is expected to return on display after being held temporarily in storage.