Christ falling on the Way to Calvary or Lo Spasimo (1517)

Raphael (1483 -1520)

Art facts:

  • Artist: Raffaello Sanzio
  • Currently exhibits in The Prado Museum in Madrid
  • Original size: 125”x 90” inches
  • This work is linked to Luke 23:27- 31

About the Artist:

Raffaello Sanzio was born on April 6, 1483, in Urbino, Italy. At the time, Urbino was a cultural center that encouraged the Arts. Raphael’s father, Giovanni Santi, was a painter for the Duke of Urbino, Federigo da Montefeltro. Giovanni taught the young Raphael basic painting techniques and exposed him to humanistic philosophy principles at the Duke of Urbino’s court.

In 1494, when Raphael was just 11 years old, Giovanni died. Raphael then took over the daunting task of managing his father’s workshop. His success in this role quickly surpassed his father’s; Raphael was soon considered one of the finest painters in town. As a teen, he was commissioned to paint for the Church of San Nicola in the neighboring town of Castello.

In 1500, a master painter named PietroVannunci, otherwise known as Perugino, invited Raphael to become his apprentice in Perugia, in the Umbria region of central Italy. In Perugia, Perugino worked on frescoes at the Collegio del Cambia. The apprenticeship lasted four years and provided Raphael with the opportunity to gain both knowledge and hands-on experience. During this period, Raphael developed his unique painting style, as exhibited in the religious works the Mond Crucifixion (circa 1502), The Three Graces (circa 1503), The Knight’s Dream (1504), and the Oddi altarpiece, Marriage of the Virgin, completed in 1504.

Raphael spent the last 12 years of his short life in Rome. They were years of feverish activity and successive masterpieces. His first task in the city was to paint a cycle of frescoes in a suite of medium-sized rooms in the Vatican papal apartments in which Julius himself lived and worked. These rooms are known simply as the Stanze. The Stanza dellaSegnatura (1508–11) and Stanza di Eliodoro (1512–14) were decorated almost entirely by Raphael himself. The frescoes in the Stanza dell’Incendio (1514–17), though designed by Raphael, were primarily executed by his numerous assistants and pupils.

On April 6, 1520, Raphael’s 37th birthday, he died suddenly and unexpectedly of mysterious causes in Rome, Italy. He had been working on his largest painting on canvas, The Transfiguration (commissioned in 1517), at the time of his death. When during his funeral mass, held at the Vatican, Raphael’s unfinished Transfiguration was placed on his coffin stand. Raphael’s body was interred at the Pantheon in Rome, Italy.

Following his death, Raphael’s movement toward the style known as Mannerism influenced painting styles in Italy’s advancing Baroque period. Raphael celebrated balanced and harmonious compositions of his “Madonnas,” portraits, frescoes, and architecture. Raphael’s experimentation with this theme culminated in 1507 with his painting, La belle jardinière. That same year, Raphael created his most ambitious work in Florence, the Entombment, which was evocative of the ideas that Michelangelo had recently expressed in his Battle of Cascina.

About the Painting:

            This piece was created during the Italian High Renaissance and is part of the Museo del Prado collection in Madrid. This masterpiece is an essential work for the development of Raphael’s style and reputation. It shows the common subject of Christ Carrying the Cross to his crucifixion, at the moment when he fell, and his mother suffers a spasm of agony, the Swoon of the Virgin, or “Lo Spasimo.” Simon of Cyrene, who is centered above Christ, is lifting Christ’s cross momentarily. The four Maries are depicted on the bottom right side of the painting. Towering on either side of the composition are the Roman guards. All the painting’s emotion is densely crammed into the foreground. The background is similar to that of a stage set with distant groups of people and crosses. The man on the left in the foreground is similar to a reversed figure in Raphael’s painting “The Judgement of Solomon” in the Raphael Rooms in the Vatican Palace.

Jesus is the main subject of the painting as it highlights the moment he slipped with the cross on his way to Golgotha for his crucifixion. In the image, there is a precise diagonal composition that converges to Christ.

The story of Christ Carrying the Cross on his way to his crucifixion is in all four Gospels. The story became a common subject in art, especially in the Catholic tradition of the “Stations of the Cross.” The “Stations of the Cross” are a series of images depicting Jesus Christ on the day of his crucifixion, which can be found in most Catholic churches. The Gospel of John explicitly states Jesus carried his cross, and all but John include Simon of Cyrene, who was recruited by the soldiers from the crowd to help carry the cross.

Only the Gospel of Luke mentions the “women of Jerusalem,” who were in later writings and Christian art assumed to include the Virgin Mary and the Three Marys. The Gospels give the name Mary to several women. At various points in Christian history, some of these women have been conflated with one another.

In Italian art, the Carrying of the Cross was usually relegated to a predictable, where the compositional framework inevitably had a horizontal orientation. Because of the increased importance of the subject and the painting’s function as an altarpiece, Raphael constructed the composition vertically, departing from the traditional rendering. Christ is portrayed pausing as he moves out of the pictorial space to the left; the path he will soon take can be seen bending back into the picture, finally leading to the hill where two crosses are already set up in the central distance. The painting was executed in large measure by Raphael himself and is among the most adventuresome of his entire career.