Cristo Vivo, France, early 19th century

Cristo Vivo

France, early 19th century


28 cm; 11 in.
20.5 cm; 8 in.


39 cm; 1 ft. 3⅖ in.
24.5 cm; 9⅗ in.

The naturalistic rendering of the physical suffering of the dying Christ creates a highly expressive work clearly sculptured by a highly gifted artist.

The body of the Saviour hangs on the cross with slightly bent outstretched arms. The chest is raised, thrust forward and slightly to the right, the outline of the lower ribcage and sternum pronounced, emphasising the hollowness of the abdomen and contrasting it with the hips, which twist to the left. The tension created by this contrapposto is increased by the contrast between the upper part of the body and the supporting legs. The feet rest, one in front of the other, on the suppedaneum, droplets of blood running from the wound inflicted by a single nail. The folds of the perizonium (loin cloth) drape beneath a double length of twisted cord tied loosely on the right hip, bunched and falling down the left side. Blood drips from the spear wound inflicted by Longinus and from both hands.

The detailed treatment of the crucified body, the swollen veins of the limbs and the surface of the abdomen, the musculature and sinews of the neck, upper chest and ribcage suggest the sculptor was at home in the tradition of objective realism characterising late medieval art in Northern Europe. Yet the striking softness of the flesh indicates that the artist was also influenced by the idealising conventions of Italian art. The Saviour wears a crown of thorns which, from the 13th century, had replaced the corona triumphalis symbolising the death of the Lord to become a symbol of Christ’s suffering and death. Beneath the crown, head bowed, his still open but closing eyes and parted lips suggest, not agony, but a gentle sleep before the Resurrection.

The fineness of the casting of the curls of the hair and beard, the crown of thorns, the veins and sinews of the neck and chest, the musculature of the limbs and abdomen, the treatment of the knees, ankles, feet, wrists and hands together with the most beautiful of rich deep brown patinas combine to produce a poignant image of the highest quality.

SOLD: Private collection, United Kingdom