Study for the Figure of Christ Carrying the Cross

A tender and moving drawing, this is a preparatory study for Sebastiano del Piombo's painting of Christ Carrying the Cross (P00345) now in the Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid. The pose, lighting and drapery of the figure in the Madrid painting are closely paralleled in the present drawing, which also indicates the position of the cross resting on Christ's shoulder. Differences in the facial features, the hair, and the addition of the crown of thorns in the painting suggest that the artist drew the sheet from a studio assistant placed in the pose of Christ.

The drawing is a fascinating mix of Venetian and Roman draftsmanship, Sebastiano having trained and worked in Venice until arriving in Rome in 1511, two years before he made this sheet. There is the classic Venetian combination of blue paper with black chalk, and a characteristic softness of modelling in the facial features. On the Roman side there is a solidity to the drapery and a density to the form that shows Sebastiano's exposure to the draftsmanship of Raphael and Michelangelo, the latter of whom would become a key influence and mentor.

The painting for which this is a study was commissioned by the Spanish Ambassador in Rome, Don JÚronimo de Vich y Valterra, probably in 1513 or 1514. The commission came through the mediation of the Sienese banker Agostino Chigi, and the painting shows a new dynamism in Sebastiano's work. The composition proved immensely influential among later Spanish painters, and it was widely copied. Sebastiano returned to the subject of Christ Carrying the Cross at least three times, and the theme became a leitmotif of his Roman career.

Black chalk, with traces of white chalk, on blue-gray paper (about 1513-1514)

by Sebastiano del Piombo (Italian, about 1485-1547)

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