Description & Technical information

In the late 16th and early 17th centuries, Ferdinando Tacca’s father Pietro (1577–1640) had been the principal assistant of Giambologna (1529–1608), the Medici Grand Dukes’ court sculptor in Florence. Upon Giambologna’s death, Pietro had inherited his workshop – including its annexed foundry and precious models – located at Borgo Pinti, where the young Ferdinando would later be apprenticed as a sculptor. Having worked alongside his father on several commissions, Ferdinando in turn inherited the Borgo Pinti studio in 1640, and succeeded his father and Giambologna as the primary sculptor to the Grand Dukes of Tuscany. Ferdinando focused principally on small scale bronzes (with the exception of major commissions he completed after his father’s death, such as the statue of Ferdinando I de' Medici for the Cappella dei Principi, San Lorenzo, Florence, and the equestrian statue of Philip IV for Madrid), until the commission of a theatre for the Medici in 1654, the Teatro della Pergola, for which he was listed not only as architect and designer, but also the engineer. His experience in the theatre led to designing spectacles for the court, and in 1656 he was appointed the designer for Medici festivities and religious rites. A few years later, still enjoying Medici patronage, Tacca was appointed engineer of the Medici buildings and fortifications.

The present representation of Christ on the Cross, his head cast down after having exhaled his last breath, is compositionally and stylistically characteristic of Ferdinando Tacca’s work inspired by his father’s models. The position of Christ’s body and the way in which the perizonium is tied around his loins reflect a type devised by Pietro Tacca, epitomised by his life-size bronze Crucifix in the Chapel of the Sagrada Forma at the Escorial Royal Complex near Madrid, cast for King Philip III of Spain in 1616, and other famous examples in the Duomo of Pisa in Italy and for the city of Pistoia (now National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.). In these devotional bronzes, Tacca combined Giambologna’s Mannerist sensibility (seen in the curving pose of Christ’s body) and idealisation (visible in details such as the anatomy of the legs and Christ’s elegantly parted curls of hair) with a new interest in the representation of suffering and emotion – conveyed through the accentuated gauntness of Christ’s torso, the tension in his arms and clavicle, and his large, distressed eyes – that heralds the Baroque period. Ferdinando reprised his father’s models most famously in the Crucifix for the Duomo of Prato, in Tuscany, which is closely related to the present bronze. Another example of Ferdinando’s treatment of this composition is a recently rediscovered life-size bronze Cristo Morto (Plasmato dal Fuoco, cat. no. 20; fig. 3), which scholar Sandro Bellesi has identified with the one originally cast by the Florentine artist between 1647 and 1650 for Prince Carlo I Cybo Malaspina for the Chapel of the Ducal palace in Massa, Tuscany. The stylistic traits and quality of execution of the Prato and formerly Massa Crucifixes find parallels, in jewel-like form, in the present gilt bronze Cristo Morto, with its clarity of surface detail and accurate anatomical definition of tendons and muscles, contracted under the skin to convey the pathos of Christ’s sacrifice. Conceived, on account of its size, for private devotion rather than a church altar, this exquisite bronze displays traits characteristic of Ferdinando’s work, such as the treatment of the skin torn by nails on hands and feet, the punctual rendering of Christ’s toes, the elongated shape of his face and the large, almond one of his eyes, and the painstaking definition of the ribcage, softly polished to contrast with the small yet powerful wound in his side.

Date:  circa 1640
Period:  17th century
Medium: Gilt bronze, on a wooden cross
Dimensions: 75 x 35.5 cm (29¹/₂ x 14⁰/₁ inches)
Literature: Related Literature 
F. Falletti ed., Pietro Tacca: Carrara, la Toscana, le grandi corti europee, exh. cat. Centro Internazionale delle Arti Plastiche, Carrara, Florence, 2007, pp. 186-187, no. 28
M. C. Fabbri in Plasmato dal Fuoco: la scultura in bronzo nella Firenze degli ultimi Medici, exh. cat., Gallerie degli Uffizi a Palazzo Pitti, Florence, 18 September 2019 – 12 January 2020, pp. 181-183, cat. no. 20
Categories: Sculpture