Andrea Solario (1460–1524) excelled in the production of half-length images of the suffering Christ, as seen here in his Christ Bound and Crowned with Thorns. Solario was one of the Lombard followers of Leonardo da Vinci, usually referred to as the ‘Leonardeschi’. Although artistically he drew on Leonardo’s soft sfumato effects and delicate facial types, Solario also looked to the work of painters from Venice, Rome, and Northern Europe. Eventually he transformed his knowledge of these artists into his own distinctive style. His devotional work seeks an intensely emotional response from its audience. His half-length images of Christ enjoyed a particular popularity in Northern Italy around 1500. Small in scale, they were likely intended for individual contemplation and devotion in a domestic context.
In this vein, Solario’s Christ Bound and Crowned with Thorns adopts a distinctly intimate register. The tortured Christ appears close to the picture plane, allowing the viewers to contemplate the bloody wounds intently. Christ’s carefully modelled torso appears profoundly pale in contrast to the deeply shadowed background. His head bows gently to his right in resignation to his capture. His pronounced crown of thorns punctures his brow, releasing streams of blood onto his sallow face. His eyes appear darkened as tears gently roll down his gaunt cheeks. A thick rope surrounds his neck and joins in a large knot at the centre of the chest. Christ’s wrists are bound, with his right hand struggling to hold the reed staff upright.
As described in the biblical passages, the Roman executioners have placed a purple robe around Christ’s shoulders in reference to his claim to be ‘King of the Jews’ (Mark 15:17; John 19:2). They then strike him and kneel down ‘in homage to him’ (Mark 15: 19). In doing so, the mocking soldiers not only deride Christ, but (with inadvertent prophetic insight) point forward to his future enthronement at the right hand of the Father (see Mark 16:19; Luke 22:69; Matthew 22:44; 25:34; 26:64).
Together, the thorny crown, reed sceptre, and royal robe interject a notion of ambiguity into the image. They point to Christ’s true role, which will ultimately allow for the possibility of eternal salvation, even for the sinners who mercilessly persecute him.
Brown, David Alan. 1987. Andrea Solario (Milan: Electa)
———. 1998. ‘Andrea Solario’, in The Legacy of Leonardo: Painters in Lombardy 1490–1530, ed. by Giulio Bora, et al (Milan: Skira), pp. 231–50
27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the praetorium, and they gathered the whole battalion before him. 28And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe upon him, 29and plaiting a crown of thorns they put it on his head, and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 30And they spat upon him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. 31And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe, and put his own clothes on him, and led him away to crucify him.
16 And the soldiers led him away inside the palace (that is, the praetorium); and they called together the whole battalion. 17And they clothed him in a purple cloak, and plaiting a crown of thorns they put it on him. 18And they began to salute him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 19And they struck his head with a reed, and spat upon him, and they knelt down in homage to him. 20And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the purple cloak, and put his own clothes on him. And they led him out to crucify him.
19 Then Pilate took Jesus and scourged him. 2And the soldiers plaited a crown of thorns, and put it on his head, and arrayed him in a purple robe; 3they came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands.