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Vir Dolorum Andrea del Verrocchio (attributed to)

Artist

Andrea del Verrocchio (attributed to) Florence, 1435 – Venice, 1488

Culture Italian
Date ca. 1470
Object type sculpture
Medium, technique terracotta, with small residues of paint
Dimensions

96 × 50 × 27 cm
with base: 106 × 50 × 27 cm

Inventory number 51.937
Collection Sculpture
On view Museum of Fine Arts, First Floor, European Art 1250-1600, Gallery XIII

Portrayed in three-quarter view, Christ seems to be rising out of a coffin. In view of its emphasis on the wounds, the Vir Dolorum, or Man of Sorrows, refers to Christ’s death on the cross, the victory over death, and the redemption of mankind. The terracotta statue was originally painted: on the red terracotta ground, the loin-cloth was painted blue, the flesh whitish grey, and the hair and the eyes were brown. Being composed for the main view and with a reverse side hollowed out, the statue once stood in a semi-circular niche. The type of the head and the anatomy of the hand and the body show clear affinities with Verrocchio’s early works. The Florentine master was an outstanding quattrocento painter, sculptor, and goldsmith, an innovative and experimenting artist, who studied in the workshop of Leonardo da Vinci. This exquisite work was once part of Ferenc Pulszky’s collection and was accompanied by two kneeling angels (currently held by the Toledo Museum of Art, United States); it was later shown that the three pieces did not originally belong together.

Catalogue entry

Andrea del Verrocchio led the most influential workshop in Florence in the second half of the fifteenth century. His innovative works greatly affected the art of successive generations, and Leonardo da Vinci also studied in his workshop. One of Verrocchio’s major patrons was the art lover Lorenzo de’ Medici, also known as Lorenzo il Magnifico (1449–1492), from whom he received many commissions in Florence. Verrocchio studied to be a goldsmith, subsequently working both as a painter and a sculptor. The statue preserved in Budapest gives a half-length image of Christ, probably raised from his coffin, although a detail of the statue referring to this is no longer known. The Saviour opening his wounds with his hands adheres to the iconographical type of the Man of Sorrows (Vir dolorum). Such depictions arose in Central Europe in the latter third of the fourteenth century, whence they seem to have spread to Italy, including Florence, where we first encounter similar images at the beginning of the fifteenth century. It was initially believed, based perhaps on its unusual iconography, that the statue was the work of a Lombard master working under the influence of Leonardo in Northern Italy. Jolán Balogh was the first to note the striking resemblance of the figure of Christ with those in Verrocchio’s works. The wavy and tufty hair of Christ, the beard divided into two parts, and the characteristic facial features exhibit a close affinity with the head of the Saviour in Verrocchio’s bronze group of Christ and Saint Thomas (1467–1483) intended for an exterior wall niche of the Orsanmichele Church in Florence (the original is now inside the church, while a copy is visible in the exterior niche). Furthermore, the Budapest terracotta statue can be linked with other works by Verrocchio, including the figures of Christ in the funerary monument of Cardinal Niccolò Forteguerri in the Duomo of Pistoia (after 1477) and in the terracotta study in the Museo Nazionale del Bargello in Florence (ca. 1470–1475). The Budapest terracotta statue was hollowed out during its production, as it was customary in the case of large statues, for this technique helped to prevent the cracking of the clay during firing. Although the reverse side was also moulded, it was not elaborated in detail. Thus, the intention was probably to place the statue in a wall niche. The somewhat crude elaboration of several details, including the loincloth and the hair, may indicate that the work was a terracotta model for the carving of a marble statue. The traces of paint found on the surface of the statue indicate that it was displayed somewhere although it was not intended to be its final form. The statue was once part of the collection owned by Ferenc Pulszky (1814–1897), where according to a contemporary engraving it was surrounded by two kneeling angels. The statues of the angels, which are now in the Toledo Museum of Art (Ohio), did not belong to the same group as the terracotta Christ. It seems likely that the group was put together subsequently by an art dealer. Miriam Szőcs

This record is subject to revision due to ongoing research.

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