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The Crucifixion
Cano, Alonso
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Cano, Alonso

Granada, 1601 - Granada, 1667

Cano, Alonso See author's file

The Crucifixion

1635 - 1665. Oil on canvas.
Not on display

The crucifix is probably the most characteristic image in Christian iconography, and it was certainly one of the most widely depicted and owned in the Spain of the Habsburg monarchs. Sculptures or paintings of Christ on the cross, in their many different forms, were used for private devotion in laypeople’s houses and were displayed in nearly all churches and chapels of the time. Subjects related to the Passion, emphasizing the humanity of Jesus and his suffering, were central to Spanish spirituality in the Siglo de Oro. Painters and sculptors approached these scenes with the aim of stirring the emotions of the viewer, as did poets and preachers with their differing artistic means. Because of the public nature of religious manifestations at the time and seventeenth-century Spaniards’ widespread exposure to religious art, familiarity with images such as this one was inextricable, for most people, from the experience of devotion.

Set against a dark, somewhat lowering crepuscular background, the pale body of Jesus, bathed in a supernatural light, seems to be glowing from within. The position of the head, dropped toward the chest, suggests that he is already dead, as does the wound on his right side. The way in which the lifeless body seems to be pulled down by its own weight has been carefully observed, and the overall effect of the anatomy is one of quiet gracefulness. The elegant position is enhanced by the iconographical choice of three nails, with one foot on top of the other, rather than the four prescribed by Francisco Pacheco, the Sevillian painter and theoretician with whom Cano and Velázquez received their training and whose models were used for many years by painters in the Sevillian school. Cano’s interpretation of the death of Christ emphasizes physical beauty, not deterioration or suffering; the balance between these two elements preoccupied artists at the time, as is evidenced in the writings of Pacheco himself.

The Gospels mention that after Jesus’s death took place, darkness came over all the earth (Matthew 27:45, Mark 15:33, Luke 23:44), and this painting follows the textual lead. In it, the drama of the crucifixion has already taken place, and the painter captures a moment that is not explicitly mentioned in the text of any of the Gospels: All those present at the crucifixion have left Mount Golgotha, and only the lifeless body remains on the cross. The scene conveys an impression of great loneliness, which is intended to affect the viewer emotionally and to elicit an empathetic response, an idea quite consonant with the religious literature and oratory of the time. The painting employs, then, a more subtle and psychological approach to meditation on the Crucifixion than the usual display of the gory physical consequences of Jesus’ scourging and the excruciating torment of the Passion. Instead of hinting at the narrative by showing the blood, wounds, and bruises on Jesus’ lifeless body, the artist chose to paint the twilight sky in the background in an ominous red tone, almost blood-red, as if the natural world were echoing the tragedy of his death.

Cano depicted this subject on many occasions, experimenting with different possibilities until he reached stylistic maturity. Several similar paintings by him have survived, and a slightly smaller one in the Museo de Bellas Artes of Granada is particularly close to this version in scale, tone, and composition (Pérez d´Ors, P.: El Greco to Goya. Masterpieces from the Prado Museum, Museo de Arte de Ponce, 2012, p. 119).


Technical data

Inventory number
Cano, Alonso
The Crucifixion
1635 - 1665
Height: 130 cm; Width: 96 cm
Acquired by the State as a non-recourse debt (José Palacio Carvajal), 1998

Bibliography +

Alonso Cano: espiritualidad y modernidad artística: [IV Centenario], Junta de Andalucía, Consejería de CulturaTf Editor, Sevilla, 2001.

Del Greco a Goya. Obras maestras del Museo del Prado, Museo de Arte de Ponce. MNP. AC/E, 2012, pp. 68-69.

¡Hola Prado!: Two Collections in Dialogue, Michael Imhof Verlag,, 2017, pp. 42-3 n.5.

Other inventories +

Inv. Nuevas Adquisiciones (iniciado en 1856). Núm. 2398.
Nº de Inventario: 2398 / Autor: Alonso Cano / Tipo de obra: Pintura / Técnica y soporte: óleo sobre lienzo / Medidas: 1,30 x 0,96 m. / Nª de Catálogo: P-7718/ Observaciones

Inscriptions +

Inscribed in black. Front, upper central area

M.N.PRADO / 07718
On metallic tablet. Stretcher

Scrap of paper. Stretcher

Exhibitions +

¡Hola Prado! Two Collections in Dialogue
08.04.2017 - 20.08.2017

From El Greco to Goya: Masterpieces from the Museo del Prado
Ponce, Puerto Rico
25.03.2012 - 16.07.2012

Displayed objects +


Update date: 04-11-2021 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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