Lot 55
  • 55

VICENTE CARDUCHO | Christ in contemplation before His Crucifixion

150,000 - 250,000 GBP
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  • Christ in contemplation before His Crucifixion
  • signed lower right: VICE... CARDUC...
  • oil on canvas
  • 183 x 114 cm.; 72 x 44 7/8  in.


Doña Milagros Carvajal, Madrid, by at least 1933; Acquired from Caylus, Madrid, by the father of the present owner in 1992;

Thence by inheritance.


Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, El Greco to Velazquez, 20 April - 27 July 2008, no. 27.


El gusto español: antiguos maestros, Madrid 1992, p. 58, reproduced p. 59; A.E. Peréz Sanchéz, ‘Eugenio Cajés, ‘addenda et corrigenda’’, in Archivo Español de Arte, LXVII, 265, 1994, p. 7;

A.E. Peréz Sanchéz, Catálaogo de la Colección de Dibujos del Insituto Jovellanos de Gijón, Madrid 2003, p. 156 under no. 235;

B. Jordan, Juan Van der Hamen y León and the Court of Madrid, exhibition catalogue, New Haven and London 2005, p. 255, reproduced in colour fig. 16.7;

S. Schroth, R. Baer, El Greco to Velazquez, exhibition catalogue, Boston 2008, cat. no 27, pp. 106, 107, 129, 219 and 228.  reproduced p. 228;

A.P. Chenel and A. Rodriguez Rebollo, Vicente Carducho. Dibujos. Catalogo razonado, Madrid 2015, p. 122, reproduced fig. 35, and p. 123, n. 7.


The following condition report is provided by Sarah Walden who is an external specialist and not an employee of Sotheby's: Vicente Carducho. Christ in Contemplation before His Crucifixion. Signed lower right VICE CARDUC. This painting has a stretcher and lining from the early mid twentieth century, with the restoration probably also from that time. Retouching can be seen under ultra violet light along the traces of the cross bars of the stretcher in various places: across the centre and across Christ's thighs, knees and feet, with some also over His shoulder and chest. The edges also have fairly wide retouching in the background. Minor retouching can be seen throughout, within Christ's body, a little in the small images of the Madonna, the Magdalen and St John, and occasionally scattered in the beautiful still life on the left. Christ's drapery is very finely intact. The signature is also well preserved. This report was not done under laboratory conditions.
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

Depicting a moment of quiet contemplation on Calvary before His crucifixion, the iconography of this moving work is highly unusual. It is one of the most spiritual images of Christ’s Passion and for its invention, expression and emotional qualities it engenders all the finest traits of the fully-fledged Spanish Baroque. Christ is shown in solitude, his loneliness amplified by the massive, bruising sky. His forearms are tied and He hugs His elbows seemingly conscious of His vulnerability and His exposed position. The rope with which He was led up the mountain hangs now loosely around His neck, the wounds from the crowns of thorns on His head now congealed with blood. From Him emanates a heavenly glow, offering us a vision of hope from His suffering. Beyond is the distant figure of his distraught mother, and before Him lie the implements of His end: the Crucifix and a basket containing the hammer and nails with which He will be suspended from it. It is an image that belies at once Christ’s terrible suffering and, in His facial expression, His resoluteness; the grief of his loved ones and His own acceptance of His fate. Given its scope for emotive expression it is perhaps surprising that more artists did not choose to portray Christ at this pause between His climb to Calvary and His Crucifixion, but it is perhaps because of its very invention, not being quoted directly from the New Testament, that examples are so rare.

The reappearance of this signed work in 1992, when it was acquired by the father of the present owner, led to the reattribution of two works that had previously been attributed to Carducho’s friend and collaborator Eugenio Cajés: a related drawing (fig. 1) that shows Christ in the same pose but with the Virgin brought forward onto the same plane (destroyed 1936, formerly Instituto Jovellanos, Gijón),1 which had been widely considered preparatory for a painting, also attributed to Cajés, belonging to the Prado and on deposit at the University of Barcelona.2 On the back of this rediscovery in 1992, both drawing and painting have since been rightly reattributed to Carducho. The present painting and the related (destroyed) drawing have been dated to circa 1617–22.

Carducho’s smaller version in Barcelona uses the same composition as the present, signed, version with only relatively minor changes to the detail such as the direction of the cross on the ground. Its previous erroneous attribution to Cajés is all the more understandable when one considers a very similar, signed treatment of the subject by Cajés, dated 1619, in the Mercedarias de Don Juan de Alarcón.3 It includes in fact the Virgin in the same position as Carducho’s drawing but shows Christ leaning forward with his hands tied behind his back, the figure of St John overlooking the whole scene, and no basket. That Cajés would paint a version so close to that of Carducho is not surprising given how closely the two artists worked over many years at the royal court. An example of their collaboration is the pair of works depicting Saints Andrew and Peter in the chapel of our Lady in the Sagrario of the Cathedral of Toledo, the former by Carducho, the latter Cajés. A similarly spiritual work that makes for a fine comparison with the present work is Carducho’s Mater Dolorosa at the foot of the Cross in the Descalzas Reales. Here, Mary is shown in similar isolation.4

Beyond the image of Christ Himself, perhaps the most astonishing part of the painting is the beautifully executed ‘still life’ in the lower left with a basket containing a hammer, a wrench, and a white cloth, and pink drape behind it. It is painted with consummate skill that is echoed again in Christ’s loincloth. Such a device as the basket in the very forefront of the composition was not uncommon at this time and may be found, for example, in works by Zurbarán (such as his Christ and the Virgin in the House of Nazareth from circa 1630 in the Cleveland Museum of Art) and in many works of the followers of Caravaggio in Rome, such as Orazio Borgianni’s Holy Family in the Galleria Nazionale in Rome from c. 1615. Carducho would not have liked a comparison with Caravaggio: in his Diálogos de la Pintura he bemoans Caravaggio for his painting without rules, theory, learning, preparation or meditation. His influence on so many is a tragedy, he writes: ‘Thus this Anti-Michelangelo with his showy and external copying of nature his admirable technique and liveliness has been able to persuade such a large number of all kinds of people that his is good painting and that his theory and practice are right, that they have turned their backs on the true manner of perpetuating themselves and on true knowledge in this matter’.5

Carducho was one of the greatest artists of the Spanish Baroque period and his influence continued for many decades after his death through pupils such as Francisco Rizi. Like Cajes, Carducho was Florentine by birth and arrived in Spain with his brother Bartolomé whom he helped in the decoration of the Escorial for Philip II. Once he reached his maturity he worked at the court of Philip III in Madrid from 1606 and decorated the recently rebuilt Palacio del Pardo. His largest commission came from the Carthusian monastery of El Paular, near Segovia for which he painted a cycle of fifty-six pictures between 1628 and 1632. From 1626 he was Pintor del Rey to Philip IV. He painted three large canvases of the series commissioned by Philip to commemorate historic battles he had won since his ascent to the throne in 1621. As Palomino tells us he was highly esteemed by both Philip III and IV and was ‘so adorned with literary gifts, artistry and genius that Montalbán, in his Para Todos…,6 writes that the only thing that prevented Carducho from being one of the greatest artists praised by antiquity was having been born too late’.7 Palomino also tells us that there has been no other eminent painter by whom there are as many public works.

1 See also A.P. Chenel and A. Rodriguez Rebollo, Vicente Carducho. Dibujos. Catalogo razonado, Madrid 2015, pp. 122-3, cat. no. 20.

2 D.A. Iñiguez, Pintura Madrileña. Primer Tercio del Siglo XVII, Madrid 1969, pp. 241–42, no. 148, reproduced plate 193.

3 Iñiguez 1969, plate 176.

4 Iñiguez 1969, plate 111.

5 V. Carducho, De las Excelencias de la Pintura or Diálogos de la pintura, su defensa, origen, essencia, definición, modos, y differencias, 1633.

6 J. Pérez de Montalbán, Para todos…, Madrid 1938.

7 A. Palomino, Lives of the Eminent Spanish Painters and Sculptors (trans. N.A. Mallory), Cambridge 1987, p. 94.