Giorgio Vasari & Court Culture in Late Renaissance Italy
Representations of Christ carrying the cross, the instrument of his martyrdom, to the site of his crucifixion are among the most visually compelling devotional images dating from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The Spencer Museum’s Vasari painting is no exception. Echoing the work of some of the most prestigious artists active both north and south of the Alps in the late 15th and early 16th centuries, the Christ Carrying the Cross is a compendium of Renaissance Passion imagery. In devising its composition Vasari borrowed from and revised certain elements of the prints of the German artists Martin Schongauer and Albrecht Dürer, as well as at least one reproduction of a famous painting by Raphael. In his Lives of the Artists Vasari championed Raphael’s exemplary, virtuosic paintings and charming, courtly persona, and throughout Vasari’s long and prolific career Raphael’s paintings often served as touchstones for his own. However, the Christ Carrying the Cross, like most of Vasari’s works, is not a rote rehashing of its printed and painted precedents. Vasari’s quotation of images made by earlier, renowned artists was common to an era in which sampling diverse sources and combining them in innovative ways resulted in a visual code that sophisticated viewers and patrons were intellectually equipped to decipher and that demonstrated his own artistic erudition and prowess.