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Christ at the Column

© 1998 RMN / Jean-Gilles Berizzi

Italian painting

Cécile Maisonneuve, Dominique Thiébaut

Intended for private devotion, this picture was painted late in Antonello's career - but whether in Venice or Sicily is not known.
This is the actual size the painter gave the work, choosing close focus on the face of Christ to underscore the pathos of the scene.

A devotional work

His back against the whipping column, a crown of thorns on his head, and a rope around his neck, Christ is shown in three-quarter view. This near-portrait format focuses the viewer's attention on the face and its expressive intensity. Head thrown back and lips parted, Christ seems on the brink of ecstasy.
All the symbols of the various aspects of the Passion are here: the humiliation of the crown of thorns, the flogging at the column, and the bearing of the cross with a rope.
The smallness of the painting indicates a work for personal devotion and meditation. In the 15th century private piety was on the rise, with a host of images offering the faithful a focus for prayer and contemplation of the divine sacrifice. Here Christ's visibly acute suffering generates intense emotion in the viewer.

Great subtlety of execution

Antonello's acquaintance with the rules and foreshortenings of Tuscan perspective allow him here to show a living, monumental Christ whose Passion thrusts itself upon the viewer. This immediacy is enhanced by the illusionist handling of the knot in the rope: set at the bottom of the composition, it appears to rest on the frame, as if on the ledge of a window opening onto the divine. In this stunningly realistic treatment, Christ's face is quiveringly alive. During his apprenticeship in the Naples of the Princes of Aragon - collectors of the work of the Northern painters - Antonello acquired Flemish oil painting techniques: the layering of paint and glazes creates depth and subtle transitions from shade to light, while also enabling meticulous realism in physical terms and in the stroke by stroke rendering of Christ's hair and beard.

A late Antonello

Executed with impressive skill, this is a late work by Antonello. Probably painted between 1476, when he was still in Venice, and his return to Sicily in 1478, Christ at the Column met with great success, if the number of replicas and copies that have come down to us is any indication. It is representative of one facet of Antonello's output: the small portraits and panels so appreciated for private devotion.

Technical description

  • ANTONELLO DA MESSINA (Messina, c. 1430 - Messina, 1479)

    Christ at the Column

    c. 1476-78

  • H. 0.30 m; W. 0.21 m

  • Acquired in 1992 , 1992

    R.F. 1992-10

  • Paintings

    Denon wing
    1st floor
    Grande Galerie
    Room 710, 712, 716

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