Taking a Look at The Mond Crucifixion by Raphael
Updated: Jul 20, 2020
Another masterpiece by the Renaissance giant Raphael, the Mond Crucifixion painted around 1502-3, now hangs in the National Gallery in London. Despite the fact that he died at 37, Raphael is considered up there (and perhaps surpassing) Michelangelo and Leonardo, and his ability to capture so much feeling within his paintings, with such delicate details and extraordinary refinement, he has become one of the well known and most loved painters in history.
We see Jesus nailed to the cross with the letters I.N.R.I. just above him - Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum (Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews). You'll also see here that Raphael has included the sun and moon on either side, symbolising the eclipse that coincided with Christ’s death. He's joined by two almost symmetrical angels, balancing on two perfectly placed clouds beneath them. Their beautiful swirling ribbons almost distract you from what they are doing. They hold golden chalices, collecting the blood of christ that drips from his wounds. They're similar of those used during Mass, which would have taken place on an altar right underneath where this painting would have hung in it's original place, thus helping for those in attendance to focus on the Eucharist, and the importance of the resurrection.
Below Jesus on the ground we have Saint Jerome and Mary Magdalene, both gazing up at the body of Christ, perhaps mirroring those who are receiving the Eucharist at the altar below. Jerome holds a stone behind his back - he beat his breast whilst living as a hermit in the wilderness. The Virgin Mary stands behind him, in her dark blue/purple cloak, her head tilted in reflection, and on the right we have Saint John the Evangelist, also meeting our eye.
Saint Jerome may seem an unusual addition as he was not actually present at the Crucifixion, but is included here as the chapel in which it originally hung was dedicated to him. Scenes of miracles that happened after his death were painted on the predella, which would have ran underneath the painting. It was commissioned to hang in the church of San Domenico in Citta di Castello in Umbria, which features in the background of the painting.
Notice the incredible detail here, you can even make out individual buildings and towers, some which are still recognisable today. It's also a great example of aerial perspective, the technique of creating an illusion of depth and distance by using pale colours with a blueish hue.
It was commissioned by Domenico Gavari, a wealthy wool merchant and banker for his burial chapel. Although the painting is in the National Gallery in London today, the original frame still hangs in the church, perhaps there's some who hope it will one day return. On the frame a Latin inscription reads ‘Domenico di Tommaso Gavari had this work made 1503’. I mentioned the chalices the two angels hold previously, these could well have been included to remind the congregation that Gavari left money in his will to furnish the chapels in the church with new chalices. The fact that the chapel was dedicated to Saint Jerome may also be linked to Gavari as his first born son was name Girolamo.
For me the style shows a striking resemblance to works by Perugino, who was one of the most important artists in central Italy at the time. Raphael was indeed a pupil of his at the age of 22, so much of his early inspiration as well as training would have come from the artist. You can see a rather flattering portrait he painted of his teacher in the Uffizi gallery in Florence.
The Monteripido Altarpiece by Pietro Perugino (1502) - Vittoria Garibaldi, Perugino, in Pittori del Rinascimento, Scala, Firenze 2004, Public Domain
There's a lot of similarities here - from the composition of the piece as a whole, to the almost identical figures of the Virgin Mary and St John the Evangelist, and of course the angels swirling ribbons and their chalices.
But let's not get too carried away, Raphael is no doubt one of the greatest artists of the Renaissance, and he was able to take away a great deal from Perugino, but he no doubt went on to so much more.
(Just a side note to explain the paintings name - it is named after Dr Ludwif Mond who bequeathed it to the National Gallery in 1924).
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