The light, emanating from a source upper right, bathes Christ’s body in a distinctly Lanfranchian manner, casting deep shadows across his shoulder, in the furrows of his slumping torso and on the underside of his limbs. We see the dense built-up areas of white on the right bicep and forearm, on the forehead and following the zigzagging peaks of the draped creases. The crimson of drapery in the foreground, with its bright highlights and deep, dark impressions, is applied rapidly in long strokes with a broad brush. Despite the dry, painterly treatment and the velocity of the strokes, the marks are precise and deliberate, creating the illusion of a highly modeled surface. Even while painting, the hand of the sculptor is recognizable:
“L’impressione è che il pennello è nelle mani di uno scultore, che ricerca la solidità volumetrica della forma misurando l’efficace incidenza della luce sulla materia reale.”1
The artist’s observation of form is impeccable: the positioning of Christ’s left hand, the little finger raised while the others create an impression in the flesh of the thigh; the slight malformation of the foot, with its crooked big toe and protruding bunion. Through these naturalistic details Bernini’s Christ becomes a humanized and tangible figure whose suffering the viewer can both recognize and comprehend. The anatomy is redolent of the artist’s David (Palazzo Barberini, Rome, inv. no. 2606), the first figure painting to be attributed to the artist in 1920.2 The protuberant muscularity of the bicep is apparent in both figures, as is the treatment of the nose, slightly flattened from the large septum, and there is a similar treatment of light, falling in crisply marked areas of luminosity and shadow.3
Nothing is known of the painting’s history prior to the French private collection, to which it belonged at the time of Petrucci’s initial publication. No early related documentation exists and a relining in the 1970s left no trace of seals, stamps or other inventory markings that may have assisted in a reconstruction of its provenance. Petrucci, perhaps optimistically, linked Bernini’s Christ Mocked with a picture noted in the inventories of Pope Innocent XI, born Benedetto Odescalchi (1611-1689). He cites Baldinucci, Bernini’s biographer, who tells us the artist “Lasciò per suo testament alla Santità del Papa un gran quadro di un Cristo di sua mano…”4 The account given in 1713 by Gian Lorenzo’s son, the historian Domenico Bernini, contradicts this however, stating decisively that his father “In testamento lasciò al papa un bellissimo quadro di mano di Giovan Battista Gaulli rappresentante il Salvadore, sua ultima opera in marmo...” which Montanari identifies as Baccicio’s depiction of a marble by Bernini, the Bust of the Savior, now in the Chrysler Museum, Norfolk (inv. no. 1.2043).5 Domenico’s description is corroborated by the Odescalchi inventory of the same year, listing “un quadro in tela […] rappresentante il Salvatore, originale di Bernini...”6
It seems unlikely that the distinct iconography of a Salvator Mundi, showing the risen Christ, one hand elevated in benediction and displaying the wounds of his crucifixion, could be easily confused with that of a Christ Mocked. According to Catholic doctrine, it is at this exact point in the Passion, when Christ is at his most isolated and dejected, that Humanity is saved. In this case, Petrucci argues, the title of Salvator would perhaps not be misplaced.7 It is perhaps more plausible, however, that the painting left to Pope Innocent XI was indeed Baccicio’s bust depiction.8
In contrast to Petrucci's hypothesis that Christ here is depicted in isolation, Montanari believes this Christ Mocked presents an altogether different iconography. According to Montanari, Bernini is able to convey a very specific moment within the Passion with remarkable ingenuity, encompassing a wide breadth of narrative within a deliberately sparse composition while portraying no specific action and introducing only a single protagonist. In the Gospel of Saint Matthew, the guards mocked Christ as the proclaimed “King of the Jews,” forced a crown of thorns upon his head, and dressing him in a crimson mantle, bowed before him in derision. Before he rose to begin the walk to Calvary, the soldiers circled Christ, scorning and spitting upon him. Bernini succeeds in isolating that precise moment: the earlier flagellation is alluded to in the presence of the column beyond, but Christ has yet to rise from his “throne,” the mantle has now slipped from his shoulders and the “regal scepter” remains in his right hand, held loosely in his fingers. Filling the canvas, Christ is painted from above, creating the ingenious perception that the viewer is standing over him, that we too are circling him:
“l’autore riserva in primo luogo a se stesso, e quindi a tutti coloro che guardano il quadro – cioè anche a noi – il ruolo degli aguzzini, dei soldati romani che irridono Gesù a che tra un attimo gli sputeranno adosso e lo percuoteranno con il suo stesso scettro di canna.”9
Through the bold positioning of viewpoint, Bernini masterfully transforms the iconography from a melancholy and contemplative Christ into a developed and sophisticated narrative, using minimal prompting objects and no further figures to act out the story.10
The canvas, made from two pieces joined with a vertical seam, was prepared with one or more red-brown layers which are visible through areas of the background and the stone seat. The tonality of the preparation allowed for a swifter execution, building areas hit by the light in brighter shades and darkening areas of intense shadow, while the remaining areas required relatively little coverage. Viewing the painting using infrared reflectography technology revealed no underdrawing, perhaps unsurprising for a painting of this period. Inspection under x-ray however proved more fruitful (see fig. 1), clearly demonstrating how the artist initially sketched the figure rapidly in a white lead-based paint with staggering confidence, mapping out areas of light with dense patches of pigment such as on the figure's right shoulder, forearm and thigh and on his forehead. These areas are built up with frantic, zigzagging marks and are redolent of techniques employed by Velázquez bolstering Petrucci's argument that Bernini was influenced by works such as the Portrait of Pope Inocent X (Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Rome). There are very few discernible pentiments: the right arm has been moved to a slightly less extended position and very minor changes to the hands and feet are manifest, showing astonishing accuracy and understanding of anatomy despite the speed of draftsmanship.11
While Petrucci dates this work between 1644 and 1655, the period of Giovanni Battista Pamphilj’s papacy as Pope Innocent X, Montanari places it earlier to circa 1630. The genesis of this unique depiction of the Passion can be both conceptually and stylistically linked to two of the artist’s famed nude drawings now conserved in the Accademia, Florence (inv. nos. 11918 F and 11919 F) and another, perhaps most importantly, in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Dijon (inv. no. Alb.TH A3, f.20, see fig. 2).12 Each of these drawings share the same mild deformity of the foot seen in Christ Mocked, with a protruding bunion and the big toe curving slightly beneath the other and each carefully studies the undulations of the figure’s slouching ribs and abdomen. The Dijon drawing, however, is alone in appearing to display the iconography of a Christ Mocked, clearly placing the figure on a seat of stone blocks with an expression of yielding dejection, the robes falling about his flanks. Montanari viewed these drawings, most notably the latter, as possible preparatory sketches for the present painting and therefore dated it to the period of their execution, circa 1630.13
In the 2007 Bernini Pittore exhibition catalogue, Ann Sutherland Harris was erroneously cited as endorsing the attribution. Her opinion was correctly published in 2008 by Xavier Salomon in his review in The Burlington Magazine (see Literature) in which neither supports an attribution of the present work to Bernini.
1. See Petrucci 2001 under Literature, op. cit., p.76, translate: “The impression is that the brush is in the hands of a sculptor, searching for the volumetric solidity of form by measuring the effective influence of light on real matter.”
2. A. Muñoz, “Bernini Pittore” in Rassegna d’Arte Antica e Moderna, 20, 1920, pp. 145-150.
3. See T. Montanari 2007, under Literature, op. cit., p. 136.
4. F. Baldinucci, Vita del Cavalier Gio. Lorenzo Bernini: scultore, architetto e pittore, Florence 1682, document 61, translates: “In his will [Bernini] left to the Sanctity of the Pope a large painting of Christ by his own hand…"
5. D. Bernini, Vita del Cavalier Gio. Lorenzo Bernini, Rome 1713, document 93, translates: “In his will [Bernini] left to the pope a beautiful painting by Giovan Battista Gaulli portraying the Savior, the last of his works in marble…”; Montanari 2007, op. cit., pp. 138-139.
6. Livio Odescalchi Inheritance Inventory, 1714, in Petrucci 2001, p. 88, translates: "Painting on canvas (...) depicting the Savior, original by Bernini" ; (For further information on the Odescalchi provenance theory, see Petrucci 2001, op. cit. p. 77 and Montanari 2007, pp. 138-139).
7. Petrucci 2001, op. cit., p. 77.
8. Montanari 2007, op. cit.., pp. 138-139.
9. Montanari 2007, op. cit., p. 55, translate: “the author places himself, and therefore all those viewing the painting – even us – in the role of the tormentors, the Roman soldiers who mock Jesus and who, in a moment, will spit on him and smite him with his own cane scepter.”
11. For more on the technical analysis of this painting, see M. Cardinali, M.B. De Ruggieri and C. Falcucci "Tecnica executive e materiali constitutive del Cristo Coronato di Spine," in Petrucci 2001 op. cit., pp. 92-94.
12. Montanari 2007, op. cit., pp. 138-139
Online Registration to Bid is Closed for this Sale. Would you like to watch the live sale?Watch Live Sale