Antonio del Pollaiolo
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This powerfully muscular crucifix is not made of painted wood, as almost all crucifixes are in the period. Instead, the figure is assembled from layers of cork, held together with tow (unspun flax or hemp fibers) and reeds. This was carved, then covered with gesso and painted. The hair is made from more tow, covered with thicker gesso, which was then modelled by hand. The loincloth is a piece of fine silk, wrapped around the figure, covered in gesso, and painted and selectively gilded. Cork was used rather than wood, because this is a processional cross, and cork made the life-size figure considerably lighter to carry. (The huge and elaborate sculptures for the floats for the Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans are made today in an analogous way from layers of styrofoam, carved, covered in gesso, and painted, for the same reason.) Vasari described this work as a processional crucifix in its original location in the San Basilio degli Armeni in Florence, a church that was was given by the monks to priests of the congregation of the Holy Spirit in 1469, and since this work has been dated based on stylistic evidence to c. 1470-80, it was most likely made for the congregation rather than the previous dwindling population of monks. (The crucifix was placed in its current location, San Lorenzo in Florence, in the nineteenth century.) Vasari identifies the sculptor as a mysterious Simone, brother of Donatello, but modern scholars agree in accepting Margrit Lisner's identification of the artist as Antonio del Pollaiolo, who was a painter and goldsmith as well as a sculptor, and so may have also been responsible for the polychromy on this work as well as the sculptural form. The flesh was painted (on top of layers of gesso and animal glue) with lead white and vermillion, with trace amounts of vine black, minium, and bits of glass. The loincloth is painted (also over layers of gesso and animal glue) in two layers, first one of lead white, red lake (carmine), and trace amounts of carbon black, and then on top of that lead white with indigo and smalt blue. It is not clear from the technical evidence whether the blue layer is from a later repainting or if it was added immediately after the object was made, perhaps because of a change in plan during the initial painting. The cross is partially original, though additions have been made to the top and bottom, as well as other modifications. The figure is in astonishingly good condition, given the materials and the way it was initially used, though almost all of the fingers and toes, as well as the original crown of thorns and titulus have been lost. This crucifix is unusual not only for the materials, but also for the depiction of Christ with the body of a muscular hero -- very like Pollaiolo's images of Hercules -- but a brutally dead looking face with swollen lips parted to reveal teeth (something that was considered indecorous for elevated subjects). Almost all images of Christ on the Cross from the period follow Filippo Brunelleschi's model in his Santa Maria Novella crucifix by showing suffering in the more slender body, balancing this with a noble image of Christ's face. Pollaiolo here instead follows the more problematic model of Donatello's Santa Croce Crucifix, with its muscular body and almost battered looking face. The artist makes Christ even more of an athlete, with his swelling muscles almost bursting forth from his tiny waist (as is particularly visible in a side view), though the face and centrally parted hair look more like Brunelleschi's than Donatello's, despite the explicit depiction of death and suffering. The parted lips and expanded chest have led to the suggestion that this is Christ's last breath. These photographs were taken when the crucifix was displayed in the Museo Poldi Pezzoli in Milan as a part of an exhibition in 2014. Photograph(s) licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.