Wednesday, October 26, 2016

274. Christ Seen From Behind

Last Saturday, we visited the Fra Bartolomeo (or Bartolommeo, 1472-1517) exhibition at the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen in Rotterdam. Dozens of drawings illustrate his working method for religious paintings: pencil and ink studies of arms, draperies, bended foots of patrons, saints and other figures. The Rotterdam museum has the largest Fra Bartolomeo collection in the world, which mainly consists of hundreds of drawings that were gathered into two albums by the Florentine collector Niccolò Gabburri (1676-1742).

A large altar piece dominates the exhibition rooms. The upper part of this 'Madonna della Misericiordia' (1515) from the collection of the Museo Nazionale di Villa Guinigi, Lucca has an image of Christ with his arms outstretched representing the crucifixion.

Fra Bartolomeo, 'Madonna della Misericordia' (1515)
Two small sketches illustrated the working process for this part of the painting. Several sketches of the head of Christ and his naked torso with the outstretched arms show that Fra Bartolomeo studied every detail and considered several options, before he started on the painting.

Elsewhere in the museum, in a dark cellar like long room, a selection of drawings from other Renaissance artists such as Albrecht Dürer are on display from the museum's print room. Included is yet another sketch by Fra Bartolomeo: 'Studies for the upper half of the body and right arm of the crucified Christ seen from behind', executed in black chalk, heightened with yellow on ochre prepared paper (inventory number I 563 N39).

Fra Bartolomeo, study for Christ (Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam)
Earlier I tried to find such images of Christ seen on the back, because Ricketts included an image of the crucified Christ seen from behind as the last image in Oscar Wilde's The Sphinx (1894) - see blog 92 'With the back to the viewer'

Charles Ricketts, illustration from The Sphinx (detail)
This is a very rare example of Christ with the back to the viewer. Fra Bartolomeo never depicted Christ in this position, but needed to study the musculature from all angles. The museum's description of this image states:

A wooden crucifix that belonged to the preacher Savonarola was probably the inspiration for the type of crucified Christ that Fra Bartolommeo developed in his early years. Given the precision with which the tension in the muscles and tendons is depicted, this early drawing must have been made from a live model. Fra Bartolommeo has drawn the right arm a second time, focussing on light and shade.

There seems to be no relation to the paintings and other studies. Can Ricketts have known an image of this drawing?