In this moving painting of Christ Crowned with Thorns, sometimes called Ecce Homo, the artist depicts a bust-Iength and bare-chested Christ behind a parapet and against a dark background. The downward-cast eyes, the long and rather thick nose, and the slightly parted, full lips evoke both his suffering and his physiognomic individuality without lessening in any way the nobility of his bearing. Antonello returned to this subject repeatedly, giving each variation on the theme slightly different formaI characteristics and its own psychological cast. The result was a sublime series of devotional paintings that have been the subject of much recent scholarly attention (Thiébaut; Simonetta).
This picture has been known since the midseventeenth century, when it was in the collection of Don Gaspar de Haro y Guzmán, Count-Duke of Olivares (Naples and Palermo), well known as Velàzquez's patrono By late in that century it was in Palermo, in the collection of Don Giulio Alliata, and the cartellino attached to the parapet was then said to have bome the date 1470, as well as the artist's signature. This seems to have been the date recorded as well by the great connoisseur G. B. Cavalcaselle on the sketch that he made of the painting (the sketchbook is preserved in the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, Venice) when he saw it in Naples in 1858. Today the date is illegible, even under infrared reflectography.
Nonetheless, 1470 seems a probable date, making this painting slightly later than the Ecce Homo in a private .. collection (cat. 2) but earlier than the example dated 1473 and now in Piacenza (Galleria Alberoni). The loss of the date is only one aspect of the more widespread abrasion of the picture surface. This is most apparent in the thinly painted shadows and beard, but the flesh tones retain their modeling, as in the highlights down the nose and the subtlety of the rendering of the chest and collarbone. Interestingly, this is one of the few versions of the subject in which Antonello has not included a length of rope knotted around Christ's throat, instead focusing attention on his sorrowful face and beautiful torso, here free of any sign of injury. [ Andrea Bayer]