Work Way of the Cross: St. Veronica Showing the Holy Face
Department of Prints and Drawings: 16th century
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Le chemin de croix, sainte Véronique présente la Sainte Face
Prints and Drawings
The Pietà and the Passion of Christ were frequent subjects in the Florence of the early 16th century. One example is this Way of the Cross by Fra Bartolommeo, showing the principal figures of the meeting between Christ and St. Veronica. The small format points up the influence of the northern painters on the Tuscan art circles of the time: the composition is based on an engraving by the German artist Martin Schongauer.
Baccio della Porta, who took the name Fra Bartolommeo when he became a Dominican monk in 1500, returns here to the four principal figures from Schongauer's Way of the Cross. However, while the engraving shows a dense crowd and buildings behind Christ, the Louvre drawing stresses Veronica's interruption of the scene's forward movement. In both cases Christ is portrayed in a convincingly frontal way, with the other figures seen in profile. Standing to the left, Mary raises her cloak towards her face, while Veronica, looking up at Christ from a half-kneeling position, is holding the veil imprinted with the Holy Face, from which the crown of thorns is absent. The saint has slowed the progress of Christ and his torturer towards Calvary: looking at Veronica with great gentleness, Christ has begun a movement with his left foot, but the torturer seems unaffected by the saint's intervention and there is no break in the rhythm of his advance.
The Northern Schools in Italy
The engravings of northern European artists were enormously popular in late 15th-century Italy, and their influence, noted by Vasari in his Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, persisted throughout the century that followed. Fra Bartolommeo was a great admirer of the oeuvres of Albrecht Dürer and Martin Schongauer and drew on them for some of his landscapes and figures. This Way of the Cross testifies in several respects to a close acquaintance with the German original. The folds of the women's clothing, for example, adhere scrupulously to those of the engraving, just as the moving portrayal of the veiled Virgin Mary and Christ's beseeching expression are borrowed from Schongauer. Executed in pen and ink as was customary at the time, the hatchings and crisscrossing strokes echo the linearity of the original engraving.
Savonarola and the Passion Cycle
Popular forms at the time of Fra Bartolommeo, the Passion and the Pietà were also recurring themes in the writings of Girolamo Savonarola, that emblematic Florentine figure of the late 15th century. According to Vasari, this Dominican friar and famed theologian could whip listeners into a frenzy with his sermons; indeed, it was because of the disturbances he created in the city that he was handed over to the authorities in 1496 and executed two years later. Fra Bartolommeo had known him personally and this was why in 1500 he entered St. Mark's monastery in Florence, where Savonarola had been summoned as prior in 1489. The date of this Way of the Cross is uncertain, but given its close links with the Northern engraving, art historians generally set it between 1490 and 1500. This dating is supported by the plausible connection between the choice of subject and the artist's meeting with Savonarola.
Giorgio Vasari, Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors and Archtiects, Dent, London, 1989
C. Fischer, Fra Bartolomeo et son atelier: Dessins et peintures des collections françaises, Exhibition catalogue, Paris, Musée du Louvre, 1994-95, Réunion des Musées Nationaux, pp. 24-25, plate 2.
L. Bencistà, in L'età di Savonarola, Fra Bartolomeo e la scuola di San Marco, Exhibition catalogue, Florence, Palazzo Pitti and Museo di San Marco, 1996, Marsilio, Venice, 1996, p. 227.
C. Hoff, in Visions Capitales, Exhibition catalogue, Paris, Musée du Louvre, 1998, Réunion des Musées Nationaux, Paris, 1998, p. 157, entry 10.
Baccio della Porta, known as Fra Bartolommeo (Soffignano, 1472-Florence, 1517)
Way of the Cross: St. Veronica Showing the Holy Face
Pen and sepia ink, red chalk, with white highlights on beige paper; marouflaged
H. 0.140 m; W. 0,196 m
Collection of Aimé-Charles-Horace His de La Salle; donated 1878
Due to their fragility, works on paper are not on permanent display in the museum.
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