Private collection, Vienna.
The present Ecce Homo, a recent addition to Reni's oeuvre, continues a celebrated theme in the artist's career. The picture was included in a recent exhibition at the Palazzo dei Cardinali Pallota, where Rafaella Morselli argued that the painting stands out as a highly representative example from Reni's maturity, dating it to circa 1638. It repeats the composition, painted on copper, which now hangs in the Gemäldegalerie, Dresden, a work generally recognized as the prime version of the composition (see S. Pepper, Guido Reni, New York 1984, pp. 274-5, cat. no. 162). Richard Spear has argued though that the Dresden version may in fact be a well executed work from the studio, potentially leaving the question of the location of the prime version open to debate.1 In discussing the Dresden copper, Pepper lists two known copies, one in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna (inv. no. 554) and another in the National Gallery, Budapest (inv. no. 994).
Here we see Reni's ability to showcase not only the physical, but the psychological description, or affetti, of the figure portrayed. Crowned with thorns, Christ glances upward as he holds a reed scepter, a symbol of mockery. With his hands tied together, he appears physically and emotionally exhausted, truly a Man of Sorrows. Reni recreated this particular composition in a number of different variants. One such variant, sold, London, Sotheby's, December 6, 2006, lot 39, shares the same core attributes as seen here, though in that picture Christ bends his head to the right, and holds the reed scepter over his left shoulder.
As described in the 2009 exhibition catalogue (see literature), X-Ray examination of the present work reveals the presence of pentimenti along the left hand of Christ, as well as in the drapery on the right arm. This fact helps illuminate a working, thoughtful process in the execution of the picture and further corroborates an argument for the full attribution of this beautiful work to Reni.
1. R. Spear, The "Divine" Guido: Religion, Sex, Money and Art in the World of Guido Reni, New Haven & London 1997, p. 365, footnote 53.
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