Michelangelo Buonarroti, Christ on the Cross,a drawing

Italy, around AD 1541

This beautiful black chalk drawing shows the crucified and living Christ with his head turned upwards to Heaven. In fainter chalk and set in a dramatic cloudy sky, two mourning angels hover in the sky below the arms of the cross. At the foot of the cross lies a skull to indicate the setting as Golgotha ('The place of the skull' in Hebrew). Michelangelo carefully ruled the lines of the cross so that they stopped at the edge of Christ's body. The skull and ground, however, were added afterwards over the edges of the cross.

This and other drawings by Michelangelo are known as 'presentation drawings' which are finished drawings that he gave to very close friends. This and two other religious drawings were given to a woman called Vittoria Colonna (1492-1547) who was a notable poet and one of the leaders of a reform movement within the Roman Catholic Church. In the last years of her life she and Michelangelo became intimate friends and they dedicated poems to each other. From letters between them we know that the artist gave her this drawing when it was still unfinished and that the addition of the skull may have been at her suggestion. Certainly, she was impressed with the final drawing as she said she would address her prayers to 'this sweet Christ'.

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More information


M. Hirst, Michelangelo and his drawings (New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 1988)

J. Wilde, Italian drawings in the Depa-2 (London, The British Museum Press, 1953)

J.A. Gere and N. Turner, Drawings by Michelangelo in th, exh. cat. (London, The British Museum Press, 1975)


Height: 368.000 mm
Width: 268.000 mm

Museum number

PD 1895-9-15-504



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