Diego Velasquez's Christ Crucified

The name Diego Velasquez (1599–1660), painter to the Spanish court, usually calls to mind portraits, both formal and informal, of the royals and their courtiers, theatrical mythological scenes, genre scenes of Spanish life, and only a smattering of rather operatic, Baroque religious subjects. Therefore this stark and uncompromising Christ Crucified is rather a surprise from Velasquez, or for that matter, from anyone. Here there is no landscape, no other people, no action or expression of emotion, just empty space, blackness, and a Christ, up close and already dead. How to account for such a startling image?

Sometimes the circumstances of a painting's origins offer clues, but unfortunately, there is little to be found here. It is conjectured that Jerónimo de Villanueva, a highly placed official at court and the founder of the Convent of San Plácido in Madrid, may have commissioned it for the Benedictines there. In 1630, Villanueva had come under scrutiny by the Inquisition for alleged irregularities at the convent. At the same time, an incident involving the desecration of a sculpted crucifix in Madrid prompted an outpouring of pious devotions to Christ crucified, of which this might be one.

The painting would have served a double purpose: as an enhancement of the convent and as a public statement of orthodoxy and devotion on the part of Villanueva and the Benedictines. The painting is rather like a statue, perhaps like the one that was disfigured. (The careful carpentry of the cross, too, might be a reference to the Benedictines' emphasis on work.) Inquiries into the convent's activities were suspended.

THIS ARTICLE ONLY AVAILABLE TO SUBSCRIBERS.
FOR QUICK ACCESS:


Mary Elizabeth Podles is the retired curator of Renaissance and Baroque art at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. She and her husband Leon, a Touchstone senior editor, have six children and live in Baltimore, Maryland.

Print &
Online Subscription

Get six issues (one year) of Touchstone PLUS full online access including pdf downloads for only $39.95. That's only $3.34 per month!

Online
Subscription

Get a one-year full-access subscription to the Touchstone online archives for only $19.95. That's only $1.66 per month!

bulk subscriptions

Order Touchstone subscriptions in bulk and save $10 per sub! Each subscription includes 6 issues of Touchstone plus full online access to touchstonemag.com—including archives, videos, and pdf downloads of recent issues for only $29.95 each! Great for churches or study groups.

Transactions will be processed on a secure server.


more on art from the online archives

33.2—March/April 2020

Christ Chapel at Hillsdale

An Architectural Sign of Mere Christianity by Michael Ward

30.3—May/June 2017

St. Luke the Evangelist

by Mary Elizabeth Podles

32.4—July/August 2019

Sojourner Knight

on Single-Mindedness in Durer's Ritter, Tod, und Teufel by Anthony Costello


more from the online archives

29.4—July/August 2016

Deep Roots

Russell Kirk: American Conservative by Bradley J. Birzer by Hunter Baker

22.6—July/August 2009

Samurai Bioethics

on a Noble Defense Doomed by Darwinian Materialism by John G. West

19.6—July/August 2006

Our Faith Observed

The Three-Fold Cord of Imagination, Reason & Will in C. S. Lewis by Michael Ward

calling all readers

Please Donate

"There are magazines worth reading but few worth saving . . . Touchstone is just such a magazine."
—Alice von Hildebrand

"Here we do not concede one square millimeter of territory to falsehood, folly, contemporary sentimentality, or fashion. We speak the truth, and let God be our judge. . . . Touchstone is the one committedly Christian conservative journal."
—Anthony Esolen, Touchstone senior editor

Support Touchstone

00