The Risen Christ by Bramantino

The Risen Christ by Bramantino (c.1490)

Today I am returning to an Italian painting for My Daily Art Display and want to look at The Risen Christ by the fifteenth century Italian painter and architect, Bartolomeo Suardi.  He was better known simply as Bramantino, (little Bramante) as he was a devoted follower of his one-time tutor the great Italian architect, who designed St Peters, Donato Bramante.

Bramantino was born in Milan in 1456, the son of Alberto Suardi.  Initially trained as a goldsmith but later turned his attention to painting.  His initial artistic training was with Donato Bramante who profoundly shaped his artistic style.  His style as a painter is somewhat complex and diverse.  In his early career he was also influenced by the drawings of Piero della Francesca.  It was not until he was in his mid-thirties that he exhibited his first works.  It was at this time, around 1490, that he completed today’s featured painting, The Risen Christ as well as another of his great compositions, The Adoration of the Magi

Bramantino worked for Gian Giacomo Tivulzio for whom he designed a series of cartoons for a  tapestry cycle on the twelve months of the year which can now be found in the Castello Sfozesco.  Trivulzio, a nobleman and warlord, had over time, built up a great wealth, which he used in part as a patron of arts and in particular on works by Bramantino.   These commissions included the Trivulzio Chapel in the Basilica of San Nazaro in Brolo where he was eventually buried. In 1508 Bramantino was in Rome on a commission he had received from Pope Julius II to produce some frescos for one of the reception rooms in the Vatican.  The next year following his work for the pontiff he returned to Milan and was inundated with new artistic and architectural commissions.  In 1525 aged sixty-five he was appointed architect and painter to Maria Sforza, the Duke of Milan.  In the following years he produced many religious paintings for his patron including a Crucifixion which I saw when I visited the Pinacoteca Brera in Milan and a Virgin and Child with Saints, which is in the collection at Palazzo Pitti in Florence.

Bramantino died in Milan in 1530 aged 70.

My Daily Art Display featured painting is an oil on panel work entitled The Risen Christ which Bramantino completed around 1490 and is now hanging in the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza Gallery in Madrid.  It is a haunting portrayal of Christ.  I feel somewhat uneasy when I look at this work of art.   It is a very powerful portrayal but the power of it is not dependent on a depiction of violence or splashes of blood oozing from wounds.  In some ways, and in comparison to other paintings which depict the risen Christ, it is somewhat downbeat.  This is not a portrayal of a triumphant Christ having risen from the dead.

 Before us is a full frontal ,three-quarter length portrayal of Christ with the shroud of his burial wrapped around his shoulders.  This is a man who has passed through death and is now no longer part of this world.   Look at the luminosity Bramantino gave to Christ’s skin.  It is a combination of translucent white and grey.   The cloak, which Christ is wearing, has a metallic lustre and mirrors the paleness of his skin.  The shroud and the body of Christ seem to emit light.  His body, with its raised veins, shows the wound caused by the lance to his right side and the palms of his hands show the scars caused by the crucifixion nails.  In contrast to the colour of his body, his face is not so pale with Bramantino contrasting the ghostly pallor of the body with the reddish/brown of his face and his red hair which hangs down to the shoulders. The long hair and the and the hint of a beard which follows the jaw line helps to elongate the face.  Despite the colouring, his face is gaunt and haggard and bears testament to his mental and physical suffering he has had to endure.  There is a distinct look of sadness in his reddened eyes.  He looks directly at us but it is a penetrating and hauntingly pained look.  He almost appears to look through us with this riveting stare.  There is an air of detachment about Christ which serves to emphasise the fact that he is no longer part of our world. 

To the left, in the background we have a nocturnal landscape.  We can just make out a riverscape with a ship with its tall cross-shaped masts and two campaign tents topped by golden balls.  This part of the painting  is illuminated by moonlight and in some way manages to offset the emotional stress of the foreground.  Bramantino’s architectural interest can be seen coming out of the darkness on the right of the painting in the form of some classical architecture which could represent Christ’s burial tomb in the Garden of Gethsemane. To the left the buildings seemed to have fallen into a state of disrepair with vegetation growing wild from their tops.

What I like about this painting is that Bramantino has managed to stop us in our tracks when we first cast our eyes on the work.  He has managed that without the histrionics of bloody gore.  The pale figure has grabbed our attention and made us focus our mind on what has happened during the lead up to this situation.