Christ Flagellated has been rightly described as an artwork of the first order, executed by the master himself when he was at the height of his powers. Combining classical form with the intensity of religious emotion, the work features many of the characteristic touches of the master, such as the treatment of the nude figure, the magnificently expressive head, the face with glass eyes and the superbly carved hair and beard, and, of course, the column itself.
The cofradías or lay brotherhoods of penitents that parade through the Spanish streets in Holy Week accompanying the insignias and the pasos, the typical religious floats, helped to revive, with blood included, the tragedy played out in the Roman governor’s house in Jerusalem. The wound “they inflicted on the holy back of our Jesus Christ with the multitude of lashes they gave His majesty” was a motive of worship. So much so that the cofradía de la Vera Cruz (the Brotherhood of the True Cross) actually applied to Rome for indulgences and jubilees for those members who whipped themselves.
As was the norm with this iconographical type created by Fernández, which showed Christ tied to a post, the Saviour appears against a low conical column inspired by one kept since the 13th century in the Roman church of Saint Praxedes. Besides awakening the viewer’s compassion, His woeful state is clearly intended to have an impact on the believer.
This example of Fernández’s art is one of many similar works produced to meet popular demand in the Counter Reformation. Christ Flagellated was brought to light by Junquera Mato when it was part of the Banco Hispano Americano collection, meaning there is little hope of tracing its provenance. The theme is highly characteristic of Carmelite religiosity, so it might well originally have come from a Carmelite convent, although it is also true that convents of other religious orders also have examples. It is smaller than life size, suggesting a private provenance, for worship and prayer in chapel or cloister.
Although none of the Evangelical stories specifies how Christ actually received the unjust whipping ordered by Pilate, a column or post to which Jesus was tied is usually seen as a necessary prop in paintings and sculptures on the theme. Over time, devotion multiplied the number of lashes the Saviour suffered on His chest and back. The men responsible for His torment were habitually also portrayed.The flesh tones heighten the realism although without concentrating excessively on the blood; similarities have also been found between the polychrome of the cloth of purity and the shawl of the Veronica on the paso or float of the Way to Calvary (National Museum of Sculpture, Valladolid), which Fernández was commissioned to produce in 1614. It may also be compared with many other works of his such as the cloth covering the nude Dimas (1616).
Stylistically speaking, the sculpture by the remarkably prolific Fernández closest to this one is in the convent of the Encarnación (Incarnation) in Madrid. Like this guest work, the Madrid Christ avoids the arched attitude of the others, while manifesting the same kind of delicacy of treatment found here. Fernández almost certainly executed the Madrid sculpture around 1616, when the convent was inaugurated.
The Guest Work is an original Bilbao Fine Arts Museum initiative designed to display remarkable works from other museums or collections to enhance their understanding of artists whose works are in the Museum collection or simply to introduce our public to artists not represented here.
Gregorio Fernández (Sarria, Lugo, 1576 - Valladolid, 1636)
Christ Flagellated, c. 1616
Carved and polychromed wood, 74 x 39 x 31 cm
Santander Collection, Madrid