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  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Description

    Christ on the Cross; flanked by two lamenting angels, a skull at the base Black chalk. 1538-41

  • Producer name

  • School/style

  • Date

    • 1538-1541
  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Height: 368 millimetres
    • Width: 268 millimetres
  • Curator's comments

    W67 is usually identified as the presentation drawing made for his spiritual confidant Vittoria Colonna (1490-1547) recorded in print first by Condivi and then by Vasari in the second edition of his Vite:

    `un disegno d`un Giesu` Christo in croce, non in sembianza di morto, come communemente s`usa, ma in atto di vivo*, col volto levato al padre, et par che dica: `Heli heli`; dove si vede quel corpo non come morto abandonato cascare, ma come vivo per l`acerbo supplizio risentirsi et scontorcersi.`
    A. Condivi, `Vita di Michelangelo`, ed. G. Nencioni, Florence, 1998, p. 61. * `in atto divino`, leading to the English translation of `in divine pose`, is a mistranscription attributable to the edition of Condivi`s `Vita` published in Pisa in 1822.

    `et un Cristo confitto in croce, che, alzato la testa, raccomanda lo spirito al Padre, cosa divina`.
    Vasari, `Le Vite [...] nelle redazioni del 1550 e 1568`, ed. P. Barocchi, Florence, 1987, VI, p. 112.

    A drawing of the crucifixion is mentioned in a surviving letter from Colonna to Michelangelo (unfortunately undated):

    `... ho havta la vostra et visto il crucifixo, il qual certamente ha crucifixe nella memoria mia quante altre picture viddi mai...` (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.`). BL Ms. 23139, fol. 10. Trans. Chapman 2005, Appendix II, no. 7

    Colonna nicely records the effective nature of W67 which, with its rich modelling and forceful three-dimensionality, provides an intense and meditative spiritual focus. The half-figure lamenting angels to either side of Christ (later additions drawn over the background hatching) can be seen as representing the ideal, interior response that the image is intended to provoke in the contemplative viewer.

    In the same letter Colonna describes looking at the drawing through a magnifying glass, an acknowledgement of the highly wrought - almost engraved like - quality of the surface modelling, achieved largely through stippling rather than hatching, Michelangelo`s working with the grain of the paper (and only obliterating it - as Ferino-Pagden notes - in the darkest contours). Close inspection of the drawing reveals the labour expended on it: there are numerous pentimenti in the contours of Christ`s body, especially visible in the area of the r. hip. Colonna also describes looking at the drawing in a mirror. Chapman (2005, p. 256) observes: `The reversal of the design, and the resulting image`s disassociation from the drawing, was perhaps a means to move her attention away from aesthetic admiration of its merits as a work of art, to a devotional contemplation of its subject.`

    Dated 1538-41, W67 is one of the latest of Michelangelo`s surviving presentation drawings finished to a state similar to those made in the early 1530s for Tommaso de` Cavalieri (see W55), although here drawn in black chalk rather than red. It is this comparison which for Wilde `fully vindicates` the authenticity of W67 and caused O. Kurz (1953) to describe W67 as the `outstanding achievement of Wilde`s `reconquista``, since until then most critics except Thode (1911) had considered the drawing to be a copy.

    Michelangelo`s depiction of Christ`s sacrifice is highly original: Christ is depicted as victorious in the moment of his sacrifice, still alive, his eyes cast towards heaven, his body is not yet pierced by Longinus` lance (the only blood depicted is that running down the foot of the cross). The serpentine composition of Christ`s robust body is emphasized by the straight-lined symmetry of the cross behind. Michelangelo`s depiction of a heroic Christ, his body undiminished by suffering, marks (as S. Ferino Pagden notes), a return to a classical ideal, exemplified by the Laocoon group, the finding of which had been witnessed by Michelangelo. Michelangelo`s motif of the Crucifixion quickly became a seminal devotional and propagandistic image of the Counter-Reformation, disseminated through drawn copies (see W93), but most widely in Giulio Bonasone`s engraving (Bartsch XV, 120.43; BM impression is H,4.75).

    The cross was drawn with a straight edge after the resolution of Christ`s form, and, like the figure of Christ, presents adjustments of position. The cross arm and upper portion of the cross above Christ`s head remain largely untouched by the chalk, providing a band of contrast (functioning almost like a halo) between Christ`s outstretched form and the darkened sky beyond. Michelangelo appears to have used a rubber to emphasis the fall of light from the top left. In this respect it is interesting to note that the contour which delineates Christ`s r. hip is not thickened. The knot of Christ`s loin cloth projected to the l. beyond the vertical line of the cross before being suppressed and redrawn within the frame of the cross.

    Over the base of the cross has been drawn a skull, a canonical symbol of Christ`s triumph over death, and the curved ground of the Mount of Golgotha. These changes were undoubtedly drawn at Colonna`s behest (Hirst): as the correspondence makes clear, the drawing was exchanged between Michelangelo and Colonna (cf. W55), the artist adapting the composition to his confidant`s wishes (see also Chapman, 2005, p. 256 on this point). Colonna`s correspondence is not dated but is generally given as 1538-41, the period to which it is also possible to date W67 on stylistic grounds (Wilde). Colonna`s death in 1547 provides a date ante quem.

    Despite recognizing the high quality of execution, Dussler (1959) lists W67 amongst the ascribed drawings, his not excluding the possibility that it is a copy. He interprets Colonna`s letter as meaning that authorship was an issue:

    Et però chiaritemi: se questo è di altri, patientia; se è vostro, io in ogni modo nel vorrei.

    It is difficult to conceive, however, of Michelangelo`s sending his most intimate confidant a drawing not from his own hand, and the relevant lines are interpreted in Chapman (2005, Appendix II, no. 7) as referring to the ownership of the drawing:

    And yet clarify this for me. If it does belong to someone else, never mind, but if it is yours I would definitely want to take it from you.

    De Tolnay (1960 and 1978) discerned two hands in the execution of the drawing, Michelangelo`s for the figure of Christ, a studio assistant`s in the angels and background. For Gere and Turner (1979), de Tolnay`s distinction is `over-subtle`, their upholding the ascription of the whole composition to Michelangelo. Perrig (1991) agrees that Michelangelo drew in the lamenting half-figure angels subsequent to the background but in the (lost) original of which he considers W67 a copy. He discerns a hesitating in the draughtsman`s hand where the background hatching meets the outlines of the angels, betraying, he believes, the hand of a copyist. Perrig also judges as evidence of the drawing`s apocryphal status the fact that the other versions (see below) differ from W67 in areas where the drawing is unambiguous - something that reputedly should not occur if W67 were the archetype. However, it is not given that all the drawn copies - of which seven, all of considerably lower quality, are known - were made from the original or, indeed, that all copyists are unfailingly true to their exemplar. Amongst the known copies are W93, attributed to Bartolomeo Aretino, and one each at Oxford (Parker 352) and the Louvre (732, attributed by Philip Pouncey to Giulio Clovio, followed with reservations by Joannides, 2003, no. 121).

    Michelangelo`s composition also formed the basis of numerous painted versions, for example, Marcello Venusti`s in the Doria Pamphili Gallery in Rome. Giulio Clovio (1498-1578) produced many sensitively drawn copies of Michelangelo`s drawings, witness his Crucifixion drawing in the BM (1860-06-16-19) in which he grafts the top half of a slumped Christ on the Cross (known through Clovio`s copy in the Louvre [Joannides 88] and numerous engravings) with the dynamic curving legs of Christ seen in Wilde 67. A small painted Crucifixion derived from Michelangelo and attributed to Clovio is in the Uffizi.

    Lit.: J.C. Robinson, 'Descriptive Catalogue of Drawings by the Old Masters, forming the Collection of John Malcolm of Poltalloch, Esq.', London, 1876, no. 67* (the asterix denoting it was bought after the end of Robinson's involvement with the Malcolm collection); H. Thode, `Michelangelo: Kritische Untersuchungen über seine Werke`, Berlin, 1908, II, pp. 466-8, and 1913, III, no. 353, pp. 154-5; A.E. Popham and J. Wilde (the Michelangelo entries by the latter), 'The Italian Drawings of the XV and XVI Centuries in the Collection of His Majesty the King at Windsor Castle', London, 1949, under no. 435 (= de Tolnay 390), p. 259; L. Goldscheider, `Michelangelo Drawings`, London, 1951, no. 113, pp. 53-5; J. Wilde, `Italian Drawings in the BM, Michelangelo and his Studio', London, 1953, no. 67, pp. 106-7 (with further literature); O. Kurz, 'Michelangelo at the BM', 'The Burlington Magazine', XCV, September 1953, p. 310; K.T. Parker, `Catalogue of the Collection of Drawings in the Ashmolean Museum. II The Italian Drawings`, Oxford, 1956, under no. 352, pp. 186-7; L. Dussler, `Die Zeichnungen des Michelangelo`, Berlin, 1959, no. 329 (ascribed to Michelangelo), pp. 179-80; C. de Tolnay, `Michelangelo V. The Last Judgement`, Princeton, 1960, pp. 58-60 and 195-6, no. 198; F. Hartt, `The Drawings of Michelangelo`, London, 1971, no. 408, pp. 288-9; J.A. Gere and N. Turner, in exhib. cat., London, BM, 'Drawings by Michelangelo', 1975, no.129, p. 111, and under no. 200 (= BL, Dept. of MSS, Add. 23139, f. 10), p. 156; C. de Tolnay, `Corpus dei disegni di Michelangelo`, Novara, 1978, III, no. 411; J.A.Gere and N. Turner, in exhib. cat., New York, Pierpont Morgan Library, 'Drawings by Michelangelo from the BM', 1979, no. 21, pp. 95-6; M. Hirst, `Michelangelo and His Drawings`, New Haven and London, 1988, pp. 117-8; A. Perrig, 'Michelangelo's drawings: the science of attribution', New Haven and London, 1991, fig. 33 (as a copy), pp. 24, 32, 47-8; S. Ferino-Pagden, in exhib. cat. (S. Ferino-Pagden ed.), Vienna, Kunsthistoriches Museum, `Vittoria Colonna: Dicterin und Muse Michelangelos`, 1997, no. IV.27, pp. 413-14; P. Joannides, 'Inventaire général des dessins italiens, Musée du Louvre, Cabinet des Dessins: Michel-Ange, élèves et copistes', Paris, 2003, under no. 121 (= copy of W67, Gulio Clovio ?), pp. 261-3; H. Chapman, in exhib. cat., BM, 'Michelangelo Drawings: closer to the master', 2005, no. 91, pp. 254-7; P. Ragionieri (ed.), in exhib. cat., Florence, Casa Buonarroti, `Vittoria Colonna e Michelangelo`, 2005, no. 49, pp. 165-6


  • Bibliography

    • Wilde 1953 67 bibliographic details
    • JCR 67 bibliographic details
  • Location

    Not on display (Italian Roy XVIc)

  • Exhibition history

    1964 BM, Michelangelo, no. 37 1975 BM, Drawings by Michelangelo, no. 129 1979 New York, Pierpont Morgan Library, 'Drawings by Michelangelo from the BM', no. 21 1997 Feb-May, Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum, 'Vittoria Colonna', no. IV. 27
    2005 May-Sep, Florence, Fondazione Casa Buonarroti, 'Vittoria Colonna e Michelangelo'
    2005/6 Oct-Jan, Haarlem, Teylers Museum, 'Michelangelo Drawings: Closer to the Master'
    2006 Mar-Jun, BM, 'Michelangelo Drawings: Closer to the Master'
    2013, Feb-May, Padua, Palazzo del Monte, 'Pietro Bembo & the Arts'

  • Subjects

  • Associated names

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Acquisition notes

    Colonna and the King of Naples according to Ottley.

  • Department

    Prints & Drawings

  • Registration number


Christ on the Cross; flanked by two lamenting angels, a skull at the base Black chalk, to a great extent stippled.  Rubbed in places, particularly at bottom. Trimmed at the top.  Two holes mended near the l. edge.  The sheet has been heavily pressed.  1538-41


Christ on the Cross; flanked by two lamenting angels, a skull at the base Black chalk, to a great extent stippled. Rubbed in places, particularly at bottom. Trimmed at the top. Two holes mended near the l. edge. The sheet has been heavily pressed. 1538-41

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