The Man of Sorrows

Christ Standing in the Tomb (also known as The Blood of the Redeemer) is a small devotional piece that fuses features often associated with the International Gothic with those more characteristic of early Renaissance form. Now hanging in the Tweed Museum of Art at the University of Minnesota Duluth, the painting, and the anonymous artist who executed it, defy categorization. The painting exemplifies the richly varied art being produced in the Marche region of Italy during the fifteenth century.

The anonymous artist seems deliberately to have combined formal elements associated with very distinct art historical traditions. Currently dated generally to the Quattrocento, formal elements suggest that the artist was working during the second-half of the century and was familiar with Piero della Francesca’s careful perspectival constructions and color palette. While aspects of the painting seem to depend upon Renaissance innovation other sections, particularly the upper two-thirds of the panel, echo the later Medieval artistic elements favored by Francesco di Gentile.

The fusion of Medieval and Renaissance formal characteristics evident in Christ Standing in the Tomb has led to a number of problematic attributions. Initially attributed to Liberale da Verona (c.1445-1526/29) further study, as well as the removal of discolored varnish during conservation in 1986, rendered such an attribution implausible. Liberale da Verona’s paintings and manuscript illuminations—which are praised for their ‘vitality’ and ‘richness’— betray a greater openness to later fifteenth-century artistic development. Liberale da Verona’s work seems more in tune with the dramatic intensity of Luca Signorelli than the calm, serenity of Piero della Francesco’s work.

The artist of this panel abandoned narrative drama for emotional intensity in the rendering of this “Man of Sorrows”, a formal painting type popular in the Marche, the Veneto and Umbria, and which emerged from the popularity of the ‘Holy Face’ in Northern Europe. These pseudo-portraits of Christ could be adapted to include accompanying figures, were often small in scale, making them ideal as devotional pieces because, as Sixten Ringbom explains, “they are essentially symbolic representations expressing mysteries of faith, pictorial renderings of concepts such as the Suffering Christ, the Triumphant Savior…”. (p.57). This expression of the faith also made them, according to Jacob Burckhardt, ideal wedding presents.

References: Ringbom, S. Icon to Narrative: The Rise of the Dramatic Close-Up in Fifteenth-Century Devotional Painting. Doornspijk: Davaco, 1984; Christiansen, K. et. al. eds. Painting in Renaissance Siena, 1420-1500. New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1988.; Zampetti, P. Paintings from the Marches: Gentile to Raphael. London: Phaidon Press Ltd., 1971.


Image credit: Christ Standing in the Tomb (Blood of the Redeemer), (15th century); tempera on panel, 25 5/8″ x 17 1/8″. Tweed Museum of Art, University of Minnesota Duluth.


Further reading: Catherine R. Puglisi and William L. Barcham, eds. New Perspectives on the Man of Sorrows. Kalamazoo MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 2013; Enza Carli, The Miniatures of Liberale Da Verona from the Antiphonaries in Siena Cathedral. Siena: Aldo Martello Editore, 1960.

Posted by: Jennifer D. Webb

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