(b. 1472, Firenze, d. 1517, Pian' di Mugnone)

Christ with the Four Evangelists

Oil on canvas, 282 x 204 cm
Galleria Palatina (Palazzo Pitti), Florence

His Roman trip and contact with the confident, accomplished frescoes of Raphael and Michelangelo in the Vatican seem actually to have precipitated an artistic crisis that Fra Bartolomeo was never to resolve fully. The Christ with the Four Evangelists (or Salvator Mundi), datable to 1516, the year before his death, is a glorification of the Mass. The Apollonian Christ stands precariously with his arms outstretched on an altar shelf, surrounded by the Four Evangelists holding books. Below, putti enframe a circular view into a landscape like a porthole, with the covered chalice teetering precariously above and on an axis with Christ, who appears to rise from it. Firmly centralized and balanced, the figures betray quotations from Raphael, although the painter's resolutions are never quite as majestic as the conceptions promise. The shallow space is articulated by the flat, planar architecture and the grandiose niche. The four figures who stand on the raised platform are completely dominated by Christ.

Fra Bartolomeo's figures fail to fully convince the spectator of their anatomical accuracy or of their physical presence. It is in the compositional inventions and the grand conceptions that the Frate made his most powerful contribution to Renaissance art. What he lacked in soaring artistic spirit he made up for in devotional earnestness.