Over a century after this crucifix was made (likely 1410-15), Vasari recounted an anecdote about this crucifix. The tale goes that when Brunelleschi saw Donatello's Santa Croce crucifix, he said that Christ looked like a farmer. Donatello challenged him to do better. When Donatello then saw this crucifix, which Brunelleschi had made in response, he dropped his groceries in amazement and admitted defeat. As many scholars have emphasized, the anecdote reveals more about Vasari than about Donatello and Brunelleschi, but Brunelleschi was in some senses competing with Donatello, whose earlier example he must have known, in that his crucifix is very different. Donatello gave Christ powerful muscles and in many ways an idealized body, almost struggling heroically to hold himself up on the cross, whereas Brunelleschi shows Christ as still muscular, but thinner, his ribs and the taut tendons in his thin arms protruding. Donatello showed suffering in Christ's face, with shaggy locks of hair falling over the forehead and and a rough visage that almost looks battered. Brunelleschi, in contrast, idealized Christ's face and hair. His biographer, Manetti, notes that Brunelleschi painted the crucifix himself, which was unusual as wooden sculptures were generally sent to a painter for completion. The artist chose to make Christ luminously pale, as opposed to the darker flesh of Donatello's Christ. The polychromy on the wooden sculpture (made out of pear wood) here is well-preserved, but originally the genitals would have been covered by a fabric loincloth, which explains why they have not been carved in detail -- only a bump was needed to make the drapery hang properly. If there was a competition, Brunelleschi won, in that this crucifix was the model for almost all images of Christ on the Cross (painted or sculpted) that followed, including Masaccio's Trinity in the same church, whereas Donatello's seems to have been a more problematic model, not really copied at all. The crucifix is housed in Santa Maria Novella in Florence. Photograph(s) licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
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