(b. 1494, Firenze, d. 1540, Paris)

Dead Christ with Angels

Oil on canvas, 133,5 x 104 cm
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Rosso executed this remarkable painting for Bishop Leonardo Tornabuoni, a Florentine by birth. One of the striking formal characteristics of this painting is the highly refined modelling of the bodies, which become extraordinarily soft under the effect of a warm, intense light. The artist had clearly abandoned his taste for the sharp-cornered angularities that characterize the linear structure of his Florentine and Volterran works, which are, on the other hand, recalled in the varied range of complementary colours, with their delicate changing colour effects.

Christ's naked body has undeniable similarities with works by Michelangelo: the Vatican Pietà and the Risen Christ from the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva. What interested Rosso in this case, however, over and beyond the literal translation of Michelangelo's figurative ideas, was to exalt the beauty of the human body, which, following the example of the illustrious model, is accurately portrayed down to the very last detail. The total nakedness of Christ's body, not entirely free of a note of sexuality, forms part of this same tendency.

The handsome young body, languidly and sensually slumped in a serene repose, and literally dominating the pictorial composition, retains little of the traditional iconography of the dead Christ, being closer to the pagan representation of the figure of Adonis. Indeed, the signs of Christ's martyrdom, which dramatically concluded the earthly existence of God's son, are barely hinted at in the painting: the small wound in his side touched by the hand of an angel, the thin crown of thorns surrounding the head of the Redeemer, and the rod with the sponge soaked in vinegar and the nails, depicted along the lower edge of the painting.