Only in recent years has the prominent origin of this work, which was acquired in 1810 by the imperial ambassador in Rome, been clear: it came from the collection of Vincenzo Giustiniani, who in around 1600 had begun compiling in Rome what was to become one of the most influential collections of European Baroque art. In addition to hundreds of works of ancient sculpture, the collection included fifteen pictures by Caravaggio alone, among them The Crowning with Thorns. It is mentioned in the collection inventory as a supraporte, a painting destined to be hung over a doorway, and indeed the half-length composition is painted with slight fore shortening. Caravaggio’s interest in the sculpture of antiquity, which he developed particularly during his stay in Rome in the period before 1606, is evident in the bent posture of Christ. There is a relationship with a particular model: the Belvedere Torso, which was mentioned for the first time in the 15th century and went on display at the Vatican sometime around 1530. With a complete command of anatomy, Caravaggio characterises the varied physical appearance of the protagonists. Christ’s delicate skin is in obvious contrast to the bronzed appearance of his tormentors. His exposed, outstretched neck, which has been forced into a horizontal position, is a clear indication of the brutality of the action. Caravaggio uses decisive contrasts of light and dark to create a strong physical presence. Remarkable is his use of so-called incision, in which he used a sharp instrument to outline the principal contours of his composition on the surface before he began painting. It is not clear whether he did this free-hand or with the help of a pattern drawn on paper. © Cäcilia Bischoff, Masterpieces of the Picture Gallery. A Brief Guide to the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna 2010


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