- Museum number
Christ on the Cross between the Virgin and St John
Black chalk and white lead (discoloured in places)
- Production date
- 1555-1564 (circa)
Height: 410 millimetres
Width: 278 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- W82 is the second of two late Crucifixion drawings in the BM, which in turn form a homogeneous group with four other complete sheets executed contemporaneously (see W81 for the list). Unlike W81, W82 is in excellent condition and the white paint, used as both highlighting and to block out penitmenti, has only oxidised in part: Christ's head hangs to the l., beyond the upright of the cross, drawn with a straight edge, with the fall of light over Christ's body accentuated by touches of white. Michelangelo's concern for symmetry is demonstrated by the plumb line drawn from the top of the sheet and falling through the centre of Christ's l. shoulder, continued down Christ's upper body through incision, to then disappear and reappear, this time drawn, beneath Christ's feet. The foot of the cross is marked by a horizontal line, also drawn with a straight edge and reaching the full width of the sheet, demonstrating that the edges have been a little cut.
The cross has been drawn with great care, its final position marked with dark lines of the chalk - it was originally drawn further to the l., at which point pentimenti show that the head of Christ was conceived as raised (Christ's l. hand and upper l. arm would seem to coincide with the first drawn figure). The cross beam of the traditionally shaped Latin Cross underwent less radical changes of position than the upright, being shortened and raised a little (visible to the far r.).
Together with all the sheets from this series (see W81), W82 displays Michelangelo's predilection, accentuated in his later career, for, a strict frontality - which here serves to heighten the physicality of Christ's body and accentuate the contours of Christ's torso, many times re-drawn, the chalk barely making contact with the paper to the far l. (these tremulous-seeming contours in which the artist's hand starts wide of his intended subject, moving inwards, is characteristic of his late style and seen in W83, a fine example of his late style, without the use of white lead). This frontality accentuates the projection of Christ's r. leg, placed over his left. Just as Christ's torso is unblemished by the wound caused by Longinus' spear, neither a nail nor wound is depicted in Christ's r. foot. The palm of Christ's r. hand is visible, his fingers outstretched; the fingers of his l. are curled, the hand seen from the side.
The geometry provided by the cross, the careful placing of which is demonstrated by the pentimenti described above, and the frontality of the figures, serve to heighten the visual effect the asymmetries of the drawing: Christ's head falls to the l., beyond the outline of the cross upright, the r. leg is placed over the l., the r. hand is open, and the l. closed; the light falls from the l., casting the r.-hand side of Christ's torso into shadow, giving a robust three-dimensionality. Likewise with the attendant mourning figures - the one to the l. bends inwards, appearing to kiss Christ's outer thigh, his l. cheek blending with Christ's many-drawn contours, whilst the body of the r.-hand mourner, in contrast, opens to the viewer, his l. arm outstretched, his head detached from Christ's body, looking upwards.
The various symmetry of the Crucifixion image, its complex simplicity, the isolation of the image with no extraneous detail, and the unblemished nature of Christ's body, display the function of the drawing - combined with the others in the series - as an ideal image, summoned to mind through profound meditation. The Crucifixion drawings thus have no destination or purpose beyond themselves: they represent the ever various meditation one the central Christian theme - ever present in Michelangelo's devout old age - of Christ's sacrifice.
The seemingly autonomous nature of the late Crucifixion group not with standing, De Tolnay has suggested that Michelangelo may have been intending to produce a sculptural group of the Crucifixion, perhaps a memorial to Vittoria Colonna. De Tolnay's suggestion is prompted by the lines in black chalk on the verso of the Windsor sheet (Corpus 418) which recall the sheet in the Archivio Buonarroti (Corpus 486) containing block drawings in pen and ink certainly intended for a sculpted marble Crucifixion. Why a sculptor so vastly experienced as Michelangelo would need to make such a simplistic diagram to visualize the material needed to carve such a figure is hard to fathom. However, Colonna died in 1547, and the drawings of the Crucifixion cannot be dated earlier than the beginning of the 1550s. Hirst (1988) also objects to de Tolnay's suggestion, noting that the drawings, all of comparable scale, and with the same frontal format, bear none of the characteristics of Michelangelo's working drawings for sculpture. Joannides (2003, under no. 42) notes that a Crucifixion in wood is mentioned in two letters to Michelangelo's nephew of 1562; such a project would have perhaps still been within the aged artist's range. Against this is the fact that in W81 Michelangelo includes in the background an undulating contour defining Golgotha, a detail that could only be rendered in a relief which was a form of sculpture that Michelangelo had not tackled since his youth. On the grounds of their affinity of style, Joannides sees the drawings for Porta Pia of c. 1560-1 as providing a terminous post quem for the Crucifixion series; no another authority has dated the series so late, to the very last years of the artist's life.
Lit.: J.C. Robinson, 'Descriptive Catalogue of Drawings by the Old Masters, forming the Collection of John Malcolm of Poltalloch, Esq.', London, 1876, no. 73; J. Wilde, 'Italian Drawings in the BM, Michelangelo and his Studio', London, 1953, no. 82, pp. 120-1 (with further literature); L. Dussler, 'Die Zeichnungen des Michelangelo', Berlin, 1959, no. 175, p. 112; C. de Tolnay, 'Michelangelo V', Princeton, 1960, no. 256, pp. 224-5; F. Hartt, 'The Drawings of Michelangelo', London, 1971, no. 429, p. 293; J.A. Gere and N. Turner, in exhib. cat., London, BM, 'Drawings by Michelangelo', 1975, no.183, p. 151; C. de Tolnay, 'Corpus dei disegni di Michelangelo', Novara, 1978, III, no. 419; J.A. Gere and N. Turner, in exhib. cat., New York, Pierpont Morgan Library, 'Drawings by Michelangelo from the BM', 1979, no. 24, p. 106; M. Hirst, in exhib. cat., Washington, National Gallery of Art and Paris, Louvre, 'Michelangelo Draftsman', 1988, under no. 60 (= Corpus 414), pp. 146-8; S. Ferino-Pagden, 'Zu Michelangelos Zeichnungen für Vittoria', in exhib. cat. (S. Ferino-Pagden ed.), Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum, 'Vittoria Colonna: Dicterin und Muse Michelangelos', 1997, pp. 445-51; P. Joannides, 'Inventaire général des dessins italiens, Musée du Louvre, Cabinet des Dessins: Michel-Ange, élèves et copistes', Paris, 2003, under nos. 39-42 (= Corpus 412, 413, 422, 414 respectively), pp. 174-183; H. Chapman, in exhib. cat., BM, 'Michelangelo Drawings: closer to the master', 2005, no. 107, p. 283
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1964, BM, Michelangelo, no.51
1975 Feb-April, BM, Drawings by Michelangelo, no.183
1979 New York, Pierpont Morgan Library, 'Drawings by Michelangelo', no. 24
1984 BM, Master Drawings and Watercolours in BM, no.17
2005/6 Oct-Jan, Haarlem, Teylers Museum, 'Michelangelo Drawings: Closer to the Master'
2006 Mar-Jun, BM, 'Michelangelo Drawings: Closer to the Master'
2010/11 Oct-Jan, Vienna, Albertina, Michelangelo-the drawings of a Genius
- Acquisition date
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number