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Work Christ on the Cross

Department of Prints and Drawings: 19th century

Le Christ en Croix

Prints and Drawings
19th century

Boyer Sarah

This highly sensitive study from life is a preparatory sketch for the painting hanging in the fourth bay on the right-hand side of Saint-Germain-des-Prés in Paris (1855-61), where the Death of Christ on Calvary is a counterpart to the Sacrifice of Isaac, after Solimena. On the right, a study of a detail shows the position of the loincloth, as featured in the painting, while the added sheet of tracing paper, an indication of the study's value for the artist, carries a variation of Christ's head.

A gentle mysticism

The drawings and paintings of Hippolyte Flandrin are characterized by an idealized form of expression imbued with a gentle, dreamy mysticism, which is present even in the preparatory studies. The same goes for this male nude: Christ's face expresses contemplation and serenity, not suffering and pain. A strong black line reinforces the outline of the smoothly modeled body, which stands out in contrast from the vertical post of the cross, darkened with hatching and masked in the fresco by the body of Jesus. Paul Flandrin, who worked with his brother on the sanctuary and the Chapelle des Apôtres, portrayed Hippolyte as Christ in The Crucifixion, The Climb to Calvary, and The Entry into Jerusalem. This cycle of paintings reflects the revival of monumental religious decors in the mid-18th century, largely by former pupils of Ingres.

Different hands and sources producing unity

Having received four consecutive commissions, Flandrin executed the paintings in the sanctuary (1843-46), the Chapelle des Apôtres (1847-48), the nave (1855-61), and the transept (1862, completed by his brother Paul) of the church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, devoted to various themes. Contrary to the custom of the public services, which preferred to divide up commissions so as to enable more artists to share the benefits, this cycle is characteristic in its unity, despite the fact that Flandrin invited a number of people to assist him: his brother Paul, Lamothe, and Pagnon for the sanctuary and the Chapelle; and Poncet and Gastine for the nave. Flandrin's work is marked by different sources: various cycles, periods for the iconography, and works. In the overall use of color, he drew from Assisi, but he was influenced directly by Raphael and notably the Loggie in the Vatican. The stained-glass windows in Bourges Cathedral feature the same alternation of scenes from the Old and New Testaments, which Hippolyte connected to one another. Through Raphael, he was marked by Byzantine images of the reclining Virgin, while his work also shows the influence of Cimabue, Giotto, and the Venetian masters in the Apostles in the choir, of Champaigne, and, of course, of his master Ingres.

"Painting all of religion" (Abbé de Saint-Pulgent)

Divided into two registers above large arches, the wall is decorated on the left with scenes from the New Testament, while the right-hand side is devoted to the Old Testament. The upper part depicts a procession of isolated and groups of figures from the latter, ending with Saint John the Baptist, inside imitation arches that echo the stained-glass windows in the choir. Above runs an inscription from the Scriptures. Strangely, instead of forming a procession corresponding to the path followed by worshippers, from the entrance to the altar, the saints do not converge toward the altar but turn, at the entrance, to the left, move around the central nave, then around the choir, and end up along the nave on the right.


B. Horaist, "Hippolyte Flandrin à Saint-Germain-des-Prés", in Bulletin de la Société d'Histoire de l'Art Français, 1979, pp. 211-232.
M. Flandrin, M. Froidevaux-Flandrin, Les frères Flandrin, trois jeunes peintres au XIXe siècle : leur correspondance, le journal inédit d'Hippolyte Flandrin en Italie, Paris, [publ. par] Marthe Flandrin, Madeleine Froidevaux-Flandrin, 1984.
J. Foucart, Hippolyte, Auguste et Paul Flandrin : une fraternité picturale au XIXe siècle, cat. exp. Paris, musée du Luxembourg, 16 novembre 1984 - 10 février 1985, Lyon, musée des Beaux-Arts, 5 mars - 19 mai 1985, n 65.

Technical description

  • Hippolyte Flandrin (Lyon, 1809-Rome, 1864)

    Christ on the Cross

    Between 1855 and 1861

    Hippolyte Flandrin Collection; Madame Flandrin Collection

  • Graphite on squared beige paper with corrections on fragments of tracing paper (for the head) and beige paper (for the tips of the fingers)

    H. 29.9 cm; W. 23 cm (25.6 cm with added pieces of beige paper)

  • Madame Flandrin Collection; donation of 1865

    MI 983

  • Prints and Drawings

    Due to their fragility, works on paper are not on permanent display in the museum.

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