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Ecce Homo

Artist
Andrea Solario (Milan, c. 1465-before 1524) and circle
Date
Early 16th Century
Size
30.5 × 22 cm (panel); 48 x 41 cm (framed)
Technique
Oil on Panel
Provenance
  • Anonymous sale, Christie’s Old Masters, New York, in 30 January 2013, lot 115, as ‘Studio of Andrea Solario’
  • Anonymous sale, Christie’s, London, 17 July 1981, lot 54, as ‘Andrea Solario’

The ‘Ecce Homo’ is a devotional subject that was very common in Renaissance Italy of the late 15th to early 16th centuries. Small-sized panel paintings with this iconography were meant for private viewing to instil empathy with the suffering Christ. This work is a close-up image on a dark background, devoid of any narrative, and, therefore, of distraction, hence enabling the viewer to experience Christ’s torment. The typical attributes of the ‘Ecce Homo’ are shown: a wounded Christ bound with a rope seen around his neck, a crown of thorns on his head, a reed in his hand and a red robe on his shoulders. These are the objects that the soldiers used to mock Christ as King.

Andrea Solario (c.1465-1524) became known for such devotional small-scale paintings and produced a number of versions of the ‘Ecce Homo’ which inspired countless copies and adaptations. Solario made a distinguished contribution to painting in Milan and Venice. Solario’s style incorporates the compositional and technical solutions of Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), while reflecting Antonello da Messina’s (1430-1479) work which he saw in Venice, and also shows knowledge of Flemish art. Solario also worked in Normandy in the service of Cardinal George I d’Amboise. He had a large studio and many followers. This painting is close to Solario in technique and is associated with him and his circle.

The work in this exhibition is similar to Solario’s very refined work on the same subject of circa 1505-1506, now in the Museo Poldi Pezzoli in Milan. The Milan painting is characterised by a powerful realism and minute details, particularly the tears of Christ and his drops of blood. It shows Christ stripped of his clothes with a robe placed on his left shoulder, with his hands tied and holding a mock sceptre. This shows it to be part of the narrative of the Mocking of Christ. In fact, another ‘Ecce Homo’ by Solario at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford shows Christ’s tormentors. In the ‘Ecce Homo’ at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Solario keeps the same iconography without Christ’s mockers, but chooses to paint a three-quarter view of the figure of Christ, making the painting less intimate and immediate.

The ‘Ecce Homo’ in this exhibition is very similar to Solario’s interpretations of the theme and to his technique, particularly the subtle sfumato inspired by Leonardo who greatly influenced Solario. It is clearly made by an artist who was very close to Solario, working within his circle. The same iconography and posture of Christ, with a gently tilted head and crossed hands, testify to a closeness with the Master. Typical of Solario, the painting emphasises Christ’s humiliation and physical suffering before being taken to be crucified and die on the Cross. The elaborate gilded wooden frame is of the 16th century and is the type of frame that would have been used with such a painting. It serves to emphasize the value of the painting as a devotional object.

Sources:

BROWN, David Allen, Andrea Solario, Electa Mondadori, Milan, 1987 https://www.artsy.net/artwork/studio-of-andrea-solario-ecce-homo

Audio Guide – Maltese

Audio Guide – English

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