Lot 5
  • 5

Luis de Morales

80,000 - 120,000 GBP
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  • Luis de Morales
  • Ecce Homo
  • oil on panel


Anonymous sale, London, Christie's, 10 July 2002, lot 93;

Acquired by the present owner shortly thereafter.


The following condition report is provided by Sarah Walden who is an external specialist and not an employee of Sotheby's: This painting is on a thin panel, possibly pine. There are knots near both base corners. Later brief extensions at the top and base edges have apparently recently been removed. The restoration is also recent. Narrow border strips have been added behind the rebate of the frame along all edges. There is a minute vertical craquelure throughout within the regular verticals of the wood itself, and slightly frizzled secondary craquelure can be seen in the darks of the background, stemming from the particular medium characteristic at the period. The extremely fine brushwork is beautifully preserved almost throughout Christ's head, with one thinner area at upper left in the forehead, where various minute strengthening touches can be seen under ultra violet light. The remarkable delicacy of the eye on the right with flushed lids, long damp lashes and tears on the cheek below is perfectly intact. Even the normally fragile darks of the beard, the mouth and the shadows on the cheek bones remain immaculately preserved. The chest has scattered small retouchings, but is in quite good general condition, however the shoulder has similar wear to the left side of the forehead above, with a similar area of retouching. Retouching in the hand is mainly near the base edge. The knot mentioned above in the drapery on the right near the hand is just encircled with a line of retouching leaving the paint otherwise undamaged, while on the left the knot visible in the wood is fully retouched. Nevertheless the extraordinary finish of the original brushwork remains exquisitely intact throughout the most critically sensitive areas in the head of Christ. 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

"He was nicknamed El Divino because everything he painted had a sacred subject but also because he painted some heads of Christ in which the hair was executed so finely and so delicately that it made even those who are most versed in art want to blow on it to see it move, for each strand of hair seems to be as fine as a real one." 1 Antonio Palomino


It was precisely for paintings such as the present Ecce Homo that the 17th century Spanish biographer Antonio Palomino wrote these words of Luis de Morales in his ‘Lives of the Eminent Spanish Painters and Sculptors’.1 A native of Badajoz, in the remote province of Extremadura to the west of Madrid, Morales specialised in the production of sacred images from entire altarpieces to small private devotional panels such as the present work. The artist pioneered his own highly distinctive style that combined the sfumato modelling of Leonardo and his followers with a meticulous precision to the brushwork – seen here in the individual brushstrokes to Christ’s hair, beard and eyelashes - more characteristic of the early Netherlandish masters and imparted to the artist from an early age through his Flemish master Peter Kempeneer.


The subject of Ecce Homo lent itself ideally to Morales’ private devotional works and the large number of extant treatments by his hand would suggest a high demand amongst his private and ecclesiastical clientele for this particular iconography. Morales’ interpretation of the subject is direct and deliberately designed to exact the maximum degree of empathy and spiritual contemplation from the onlooker. The words ‘Ecce Homo’ or ‘Behold the man’ were uttered by Pontius Pilate to the Jews outside his praetorium, following the scourging of Christ. In keeping with Counter-Reformation strictures, Morales has distilled the narrative to focus solely on the figure of Christ whose frailty and humanity is laid bare before us as His body shows the effects of His scourging and He weeps in the face of the hostility that surround Him as the priests and henchmen responded to Pilate with the words ‘Crucify! Crucify!’. Morales’ treatment of the subject is at once powerful and shocking and in its beauty and compassion was no doubt as moving to the contemporary viewer as it remains to us today.


When the present work was sold at auction in London in 2002 it bore later extensions (each measuring approximately 1.5 cm) to the upper and lower edges, which were subsequently removed during restoration, along with an added gilt halo to the head of Christ, to create an image of far greater intensity. Another version, listed by Bäcksbacka as in the collection of the Conde de Adanero, shares a similar cropping of the composition at the top and bottom, indicating that the present work in all likelihood was originally of these or very similar dimensions.2

We are grateful to Dr. Isabel Mateo Gómez for endorsing the attribution to Morales on the basis of photographs. 

1. See A. Palomino, Lives of the Eminent Spanish Painters and Sculptors, trans. N.A. Mallory, Cambridge 1987, pp. 38.

2. See I. Bäcksbacka, Luis de Morales, Helsinki 1962, p. 189, no. A21, reproduced p. 361, fig. 156.