Ecce Homo

The phrase Ecce Homo (Behold the Man) is derived from the words uttered by Pontius Pilate as he presented the scourged Christ to a hostile crowd shortly before the Crucifixion, as recounted in the New Testament gospels. In Medieval and Renaissance iconography, Christ is shown with a saddened expression and downcast eyes, bearing the wounds of the flagellation, the crown of thorns and reed staff bestowed upon him in mocking contempt. The theme was of special interest to Andrea Solario, who explored it in a number of versions, several of which survive. Along with his depictions of Christ Carrying the Cross (Rome, Galleria Borghese, inv. 461) and the Head of Saint John the Baptist (Paris, Louvre, inv. M.I. 735), Solario's Ecce Homo paintings played a decisive role in the development of devotional art in northern Italy.

Three pictures of this subject by Solario are dated by David Alan Brown to the years between 1505 and 1510 (Oxford, Ashmolean Museum, inv. A817; Philadelphia, John G. Johnson Collection, Philadelphia Museum of Art, inv. J. 274; and Lispia, Museum der Bildenden Künste, inv. 1660) (see D. A. Brown, Andrea Solario, Milan, 1987, nos. 31, 50, 51). These are all of a similar type: Christ is seen three-quarter length, wrists crossed over his abdomen, head inclined downwards slightly to the left. His robe is draped over his shoulders but open at the center to reveal his wounded chest, and a rope, with which he would soon be dragged toward Calvary, is tied loosely around his neck. In the Oxford version, tormentors are included at the left and right of the composition, but the figure of Christ remains nearly identical in all three images. Brown notes that these works must have been extremely popular during Solario's day, as numerous contemporary copies attest. However, he observes that Solario's more accomplished interpretations of the theme are generally considered to be the two earlier versions at Milan (Museo Poldi Pezzoli, inv. 1647/637) and Bergamo (Accademia Carrara, inv. 716 [300]) (D. A. Brown, op. cit., p. 71).

It is to these earlier works that the present picture relates most closely. Brown dates the Milan picture to circa 1495 and that in Bergamo to circa 1503-1507. In these two images, the features of Christ's face reflect the influence of Antonello da Messina (c. 1430-1479), whose art made a strong impression on Solario during an early sojourn in Venice. The present painting, whose half-length format parallels those of the pictures at Milan and Bergamo, reveals a very similar facial type as well. The brilliant hue of Christ's robe in the present lot is characteristic of Solario, while the expressive visage of Christ, with gentle sfumato enveloping the features, reflects the influence of Leonardo da Vinci. It is therefore not surprising that the present work was once attributed to Leonardo's follower, Bernardino Luini (c. 1475-1532). Though the present work closely reflects the Milan and Bergamo versions, the tunic, position of the hands and reed staff, and execution of the rope knot are unique.

Anonymous sale; Christie's, London, 17 July 1981, lot 54, as 'Andrea Solario' (£5,000).