- Christ as Ecce Homo
- oil on canvas
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This previously unrecorded example of the Christ as the Ecce Homo is an excellent example of Reni’s work in this genre. In addition to the usual Crucifixions and other depictions of Christ, the artist created images of the crowned and mocked saviour throughout his career, and in various formats. Of the type that might most properly be called the “Ecce Homo," or "Man of Sorrows” perhaps the most well-known is that at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, which is a true, half-length depiction. There are a few bust-length examples closer in format to the present work, including a canvas in the Gemäldegalerie, Dresden (inv. 330) as well as one formerly in the Wachmeister/Sparre collection, Sweden and now in a private American collection.3 Those examples show the Christ more full face, with his head and eyes in that most “Reni” of attitudes- rolling dramatically heavenward.
The present canvas, instead, is closer in tone to the more introspective Cambridge Ecce Homo. It shows Christ to just below his breast, leaning against a stone plinth at lower left. As in all of the other depictions of the Ecce Homo, he is shown nude, but loosely draped in a lilac-pink mantle, his head crowned with thorns and holding a reed staff. The flickering and rapid brushwork so characteristic of Reni can be seen throughout: in the flesh tones, in the drapery, and most beautifully in the curling hair and beard of the Christ. Most like the Cambridge picture is the downward tilt of the head, an attitude that suggests that the savior has resigned himself to his fate. Of all the known versions that are close to the present canvas, however, the strongest link is with another painting in the collection of the Gemäldegalerie, Dresden (inv. 329), currently on loan to the Getty Museum, Los Angeles. These two works are so close as to be almost twins, but do slightly differ, most noticeably in their support—the present is painted on canvas, while the Dresden Ecce Homo is on copper. There are some compositional variances. The Dresden copper does not show Christ’s hands resting on a stone plinth, but they are crossed in a very similar way. The binding of the hands is more apparent in the Dresden example than in this canvas, where it is very subtly hinted at on his right wrist. Both of course include the required reed staff, but the Dresden one falls to the right of Christ’s head, while the present one leans sharply to the left, and the Dresden Christ is more loosely covered by his mantle, with both shoulders exposed, while this Christ has his right side covered. The comparison between the two pictures is even more fascinating given that until it was recently cleaned, the Dresden copper’s autograph status had been questioned.4 The reassessment of the Dresden painting and the reappearance of the present one allow for a fuller appreciation of this composition by Reni, datable to the second half of the 1630s, of a type of Ecce Homo which is more tender and contemplative than many of his other works in this vein.5
1. For Reni's rapidity noted in his accounts, see D.S. Pepper, "Guido Reni's Roman Account Book," Burlington Magazine, vol. CXIII, 1971, p.315.
2. For a full discussion of Reni’s religious imagery and its influence, see R. Spear, The Divine Guido, New Haven and London, 1997.
3. For the Dresden painting, see D.S. Pepper, Guido Reni: A Complete Catalogue of his Works with an Introductory Text, New York 1984, p. 275, cat. no. 161, although he confused the painting with another work of the same subject in the same gallery (his cat. no. 162, discussed in the note above), asserting that it was destroyed in the war. He even transposed the illustrations of the two works in his catalogue.
4. Cf. D.S. Pepper, 1984 op. cit., pp. 274-5, cat. no. 162 (see footnote 3 for Pepper's confusion of the versions). Spear (op. cit, p. 365, footnote 53) doubted the Dresden copper as fully autograph, and thought it a "good retouched studio work" although he saw it in 1990, before it had been cleaned. The painting has since been published as fully autograph as its wonderful quality suggests (see A. Henning, "The New Technique of Oil on Copper," in Captured Emotions: Baroque Painting in Bologna, exhibition catalogue, Los Angeles 2009, p. 27, plate 7).
5. Pepper (1984 op. cit.) dates the Dresden Ecce Homo, although known to him only in photographs, to 1636-7, and the Cambridge Ecce Homo to 1638-9, and thus a dating of the present painting to about the same moment seems likely. Henning (op. cit.) also dates the Dresden copper to circa 1636-7.