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Crucifixion by Michelangelo, a drawing in black chalk
Michelangelo made this devotional image for his friend Vittoria Colonna. An aristocratic poet and religious reformer, she became his confidante in the mid-1530s. Unusually, Michelangelo shows the Crucified Christ alive and suffering, at once human and divine. This imagery, as well as Michelangelo's late additions of the lamenting angels and a skull, may reflect Colonna's input into the design. Upon receiving the drawing, Colonna wrote the following letter to Michelangelo to thank him:
Unique master Michelangelo and my most particular friend, I have received your letter and seen the Crucifix which has certainly crucified itself in my memory more than any other picture that I have ever seen. No image better made, more alive, or finished could be seen. Certainly, I could never explain how subtly and marvellously it is made, and for this reason I am resolved that I don't wish it to be in the hands of anyone else … I've looked at it closely using a lamp, a magnifying glass and a mirror: never did I see anything more finely executed. (British Library, Add. MS 23139, fol. 10)
Michelangelo was a devout Catholic and during the last three decades of his life, his faith deepened. This was partly inspired by Vittoria Colonna as well as a growing sense of his own mortality. The Crucifixion was a subject which he returned to right at the end of his life in a series of three drawings. The potency of this earlier image inspired a number of painted and engraved versions.