• The Dead Christ Supported by an Angel

The Dead Christ Supported by an Angel

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The Dead Christ Supported by an Angel (Man of Sorrows)
Artists: Antonello da Messina
Oil painting on panel; Size: 74x51cm; Prado, Madrid.

In this splendid painting, Antonello da Messina depicted Christ supported by an angel, the famous artist has renounced a faithful representation of the biblical text in favor of a fervent meditation on Christ's sacrifice. The art theme was popular in 15th-century Italian painting and was made famous by Giovanni Bellini, who produced numerous versions of it, the oldest of which is in the Museo Correr in Venice.
All the pictures of this subject painted in the Venetian area before 1470, inspired by Donatello's bas-relief for the church of 11 Santo in Padua, present the figure of Christ in a frontal position. But Antonello sets it diagonally both in the Man of Sorrows he painted in Venice (Museo Correr) and in the later version in the Prado, also begun in the lagoon city but probably finished on his return to Messina. It is not certain that Antonello was the first to break with the established tradition of the frontal position because Giovanni Bellini, in the Dead Christ Supported by Angels in the Vatican Museums, placed Christ at a marked angle. But the controversial dating of this work does not yet allow us to assign the credit for the innovation to either of the artists.
The panel in the Prado presents features of interest with regard to the landscape as well, where the barren area on the right is strewn with shattered tree trunks, skulls and human bones, probably a reference to the transience of life. The broken tree from which a new branch is sprouting - also present in the Crucifixions in Bucharest and Antwerp - seems to allude to the sacrifice of Christ, who died so that believers could be born into a new life. In the background we see Jerusalem, whose representation may be based on the city of Messina. It is possible that some parts of the landscape should be ascribed to the painter's son, Jacobello.
Once again the greatest merit of the work lies in the fusion between the Flemish taste for detail and the monumentality and plasticity of the figures, typical of the Italian figurative language.

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