(b. 1559, Villa Castelvecchi di Cigoli, d. 1613, Roma)
Oil on canvas, 175 x 135 cm
Galleria Palatina (Palazzo Pitti), Florence
The history of what is certainly Cigoli's most famous painting has recently been clarified by the discovery of new documents. Cigoli's nephew, Giovanni Battista Cardi, was the first to report that this Ecce Homo was chosen as the best of three versions of the theme commissioned as part of an 'unknown' competition between Cigoli, Caravaggio and Domenico Passignano. It is now clear that in 1607, when Cigoli was resident in Rome, he painted an Ecce Homo for Massimo Massimi as a pendant for a picture by Caravaggio that the collector already owned. Although Cigoli's contract does not specify the subject of Caravaggio's picture, it was most likely The Crowning with Thorns commissioned by Massimi two years earlier and that has been identified by some scholars as the painting now in Prato. A thumbnail sketch at the bottom of Cigoli's preparatory drawing depicts a Crowning with Thorns that may reflect Massimi's Caravaggio. The drawing also illustrates Cigoli's attempt to bring his own more lyrical style into harmony with Caravaggio's particular brand of dramatic naturalism. He adopts a 'Caravaggesque' illumination, in which the three principal figures are brilliantly lit from the front while the soldiers behind them are almost absorbed by the inky darkness of the background. In the painting Christ's suffering is depicted with a subtle degree of realism, although the servant's facial features are grotesquely exaggerated in keeping with the traditional manner of depicting the subject. This is precisely the type of caricaturing that is dropped in the Ecce Homo attributed to Caravaggio, where the servant is rendered with the same naturalism as Christ.