About this artwork
This painting represents one of the most popular compositions invented by one of the most distinguished painters working in Rome during the High Renaissance. In the 1510s, following an early period in Venice, Sebastiano del Piombo traveled to Rome, where he was drawn into the lively atmosphere of competition between the two great luminaries of the period, Michelangelo Buonarroti and Raphael. Michelangelo took Sebastiano under his wing, teaching him his monumental style and providing drawings for some of Sebastiano’s major commissions. Following Raphael’s death in 1520, the painter and historian Giorgio Vasari stated that “first place in the art of painting was unanimously granted by all, thanks to the favor of Michelangelo, to Sebastiano.”
Christ Carrying the Cross draws upon recent developments of an enormously popular iconography by artists including Giovanni Bellini, Giorgione, and Andrea Mantegna, among others. Here, Simon of Cyrene assists Jesus, emphasizing the heavy weight of the cross on his shoulders. A Roman soldier stands behind, his jeering face just visible in the darkness. In the background, the tightly packed composition opens up onto a crowd assembling at the foot of the hill of Golgotha, with two crosses barely visible. The luminous landscape is a hallmark of the artist’s Venetian training. The painting’s dramatic visual impact is a result of the powerful diagonals of the cross; the dynamic, almost sculptural quality of Christ’s clothing; and the pathos of his expression.
The popularity of Sebastiano’s composition is reflected in the number of surviving variants that he created over the course of his career. The Art Institute’s version is an autograph replica of a painting—now in the Museo del Prado, Madrid—made for Jerónimo Vich y Valterra, the Spanish ambassador to Rome. Other versions survive in the State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg; the Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales, Madrid; and the Szépmüvészeti Múzeum, Budapest.
- Sebastiano del Piombo
- Christ Carrying the Cross
- Oil on panel
- 118 × 92 cm (46 7/16 × 36 1/4 in.)
- Lacy Armour, Ada Turnbull Hertle, Mary Swissler Oldberg Acquisition, Charles H. and Mary F. S. Worcester Collection funds; Wirt D. Walker Trust; Alyce and Edwin DeCosta and the Walter E. Heller Foundation Fund; Estate of Walter Aitken; Frederick W. Renshaw Acquisition, Marian and Samuel Klasstorner funds; Edward E. Ayer Fund in Memory of Charles L. Hutchinson; Lara T. Magnuson Acquisition, Director's funds; Samuel A. Marx Purchase Fund for Major Acquisitions; Edward Johnson, Maurice D. Galleher Endowment, Simeon B. Williams, Capital Campaign General Acquisitions, Wentworth Greene Field Memorial, Samuel P. Avery, Morris L. Parker, Irving and June Seaman Endowment, and Betty Bell Spooner funds