The Crucifixion awaiting transport at San Salvi Museum

An unusual rendition

Here’s Nelli’s ‘new’ take on one of the most frequent themes in Christian art. Nelli’s lunette of The Crucifixion depicts a slender, non-muscular Christ hanging crucified on a cross in a dark, gloomy landscape of trees and bushes with small mounds representing Golgotha in the foreground. There are no other figures present in the scene, only two instruments of the Passion, lance and sponge, which is unusual for crucifixion scenes. Usually there is a traditional cast of characters huddling below the cross, at least Mary and young John. Nelli’s rendition appears to be a night scene, also unusual for this theme or any other painting in the sixteenth century. A cloudy, stormy sky extends behind hills in background where light is fading on the horizon. Yet Christ’s body, rendered schematically, with little chiaroscuro or modeling, appears radiant, if waxy. His head turned downward seems small for his body, face grey and in shadow. Any emotional expression derives from surrounding darkness rather than from Christ’s face or body. Only light on Christ’s body and blue loincloth lighten up a somber, desolate scene.