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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

“Christ Falling on the Way to Calvary” by Raphael

Raphael Spasimo

“Christ Falling on the Way to Calvary” by Raphael

“Christ Falling on the Way to Calvary” by Raphael shows Christ carrying the cross to his crucifixion, at the moment when he fell. The foreground of the painting is densely packed with emotional responses especially his mother’s agony. The group includes Simon of Cyrene, who is centred above Christ and is lifting Christ’s cross momentarily; also the four Marys are depicted on the bottom right side of the painting. Towering on either side of the composition are the Roman guards. This picture 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.

Christ Carrying the Cross

The story of Christ Carrying the Cross on his way to his crucifixion is in all four Gospels and became a common subject in art, especially in the Catholic tradition of the “Stations of the Cross”, which is 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 states explicitly 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 of Christian history, some of these women have been conflated with one another.

The Swoon of the Virgin

The Swoon of the Virgin was an idea developed in the late Middle Ages, in which the Virgin Mary fainted while she watched the process of the Crucifixion of Jesus. The swoon might be placed during the episode of Christ Carrying the Cross, as on the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem, but very commonly also during the Crucifixion of Jesus.  The concept of the “spasm” of the Virgin was fashionable, but also controversial, in early-16th-century Catholicism. In this work, Raphael shows the Virgin has only fallen to her knees, not collapsed or fainted, as is often shown.

Raphael

Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino (1483 – 1520) who is known as Raphael was an Italian painter and architect of the High Renaissance. Together with Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael forms the three great masters of the High Renaissance.

Raphael died young at the age of 37, but he left a large body of work, most of which can be found in the Vatican Palace, where the Raphael Rooms were the most extensive works of his career. Raphael’s career falls into three phases, his early years in Umbria, his four years in Florence, followed by his twelve years in Rome, working for two Popes and the Church. His best-known work is “The School of Athens” in the Vatican.

Reflections

  • Why was “Passion Plays” depicting this scene popular and widely performed in traditionally Catholic countries?
  • Is the physical violence of this act portrayed effectively by Raphael?

Exploring Raphael

Christ Falling on the Way to Calvary

  • Title:             Christ Falling on the Way to Calvary
  • Italian:          Lo Spasimo di Sicilia
  • Artist:           Raphael
  • Year:             1517
  • Medium:      Oil on panel transferred to canvas
  • Museum:     Prado Museum, Museo del Prado

Raphael

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“The habit doesn’t make the monk.“
– Spanish Proverb

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Photo Credit: Raphael [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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