This is surely one of the most beautiful images of Christ, or of any man, ever painted.
Christ crucified (248 × 169 cm) by Diego Velázquez,1599–1660 (public domain photo)
In the Prado Museum, Madrid. It is life-size.
It was one of the first commissions Velazquez received after coming back from his first trip to Italy. There he had seen the works of the great Renaissance painters but there’s no trace of them here—no Michelangelo, no Rafael, no Leonardo. The Christ looks more classical Greek than cinquecento Italian. His beauty has been called “Apollo-like”.
And it’s true: this beautiful figure could almost have been painted by Praxiteles or one of the other Greek masters.
It is as though Velazquez had strolled through that great Museum Italy, had seen all the works of art, old and new, and had picked out NOT the recent work of Renaissance masters but the best classical Greek work (available, of course, only through Roman copies).
In fact, on his next trip to Italy, he ordered plaster casts of over two dozen of those classical works to be sent back to Madrid, where you can see them now in the Prado Museum. To his eye, those were the real thing, the best models to have around. He seems to have found Florentine Renaissance exaggeration—Michelangelo’s bombast, Rafael’s cameo prettiness—distasteful. He must have thought that for all their professions of love for the ancient world those big-talking Humanists had missed the point of her art, which was a quiet naturalness. Old Rome had misled them. In art, Rome never knew what she was talking about. So what had so recently been “reborn” was only an ancient misunderstanding of the real thing.