How to represent Christ in the cross
Year mention: 1649
Crucifixion ; Passion of Christ
Inadequate manner

Depicting Christ crucified with three nails, naked on the cross, and using a crown that is different from that of thorns

Pacheco, Francisco
Cellini, Benvenuto, Crucifix, Drawing from The life of Benvenuto Cellini, 1906 (autobiography), artwork in El Escorial Church, altar of the San Lorenzo el Real choir stalls, Madrid
Internet archive (original from Getty Research Institute)

Francisco Pacheco in this passage created a response to Francisco de Rioja with the intention of counter-arguing him on his theory that Christ would be crucified with three nails, instead of four. Also, the author states that Christ should be not naked, but rather wear a white cloth and use the crown of thorns on the Cross. The author mentioned artworks made by artists such as Albrecht Drer, Michelangelo Buonarroti, Juan Baptista Franconio, Pablo de Cspedes, Juan Martnez Montas, and Antonio Mohedano as some of the models which should be followed.

“The reasons, the seriousness of the authors, and the ancient use of this painting are the things with which it can be justly accredited, in which you have so highly discoursed. And so I say, beginning with those that are offered to me: There is no doubt, but that it is very difficult, not giving rise to a miracle, to nail one foot on top of another together with the wood of the cross without, in breaking the nail, with the violence of the blows, the bones of the feet breaking, the contrary being of faith, and it is something that makes the most learned men of our time not a little repugnant. Also in the memoirs of all the ancient and modern writers, although I scan the opinion of all three, this nail is not found to be longer, or unequal to the others, which, perforce, it had to be to pass the two feet together and the wood of the Cross, and to be able to bend the point; […] Another reason, is the custom of the Romans and that among them it is most common to crucify with four nails, […] Two reasons are offered to me with which I am persuaded that this is so:
The first is that they are Greek authors in whose language, as is well known, you are so skilled that, without resorting to interpreters, you will be able to attain the force and propriety of their sentences, which is a great advantage. Secondly, it seems to me impossible that such learned and ancient authors did not speak in favor of the most ancient image in the Church, of Christ crucified with four nails, as we shall see hereafter because it is certain that writers celebrate what was venerated and believed in their time. Now, therefore, whoever persuades himself that there were three nails, and wants to follow this opinion, do not blame me, if it seems to him that I move lightly and consider the antiquity and gravity of so many authors and saints and the munchedumbre of modern scholars that follow them, […] There is another ancient crucifix, larger than the natural one, like the one made by Nicodemus, in Portugal, in a village called Matusiños, about two leagues from the city of Oporto, in the main church; it is without clothes and with a crown of thorns and the feet of itself, nailed to the same cross with two nails. Albrecht Dürer, a most diligent, learned, and holy artist, must have almost a hundred years ago debuted a Crucifixion that I found in a book of things in his hand, which was of our Catholic King Philip II, with four nails and the supernumerary, just as I execute it; whose authority in sacred paintings is of great veneration and powerful to be followed by his imitation”. Micael Angel, very clear light in painting and sculpture, made a Crucifix of a third, with four nails, which we enjoy today; which Juan Baptista Franconio, a brave silversmith, brought to this city, cast in bronze, in the year 1597; and, after having enriched all the painters and sculptors with it, he gave the original to Pablo de Céspedes, racionero of the Holy Church of Cordoba, who, with great esteem, wore it around his neck. Our contemporary Juan Martines Montañés happily followed the posture of his feet, following the revelations of St. Bridget, with each one having its nail, in the famous Christ that Don Mateo Vásquez, archdeacon of Carmona, gave to the Carthusian monastery; and he tells me that his master Pablo de Roxas made in Granada, more than forty years ago, one in ivory with four nails for the Count of Monteagudo He painted another one like this, in Antequera, Antonio Mohedano, […]
Thus, the crucifixion of the Lord is seen that in the time of St. Gregory, which was in the years 590, it was painted with four nails […] Well, that of the three nails, we see that it began to be executed in the time of Luke Tudens and the blessed St. Francis, which flourished in the years 1200, having the pontifical chair Innocent III and the Empire Otto IV or, as others feel, some years before. And this of four nails began with the Church and was first executed by the disciples of Christ, having fresh memory of his sacred passion, and so many eyewitnesses present. So, quick, concluding our discourse, I say: That to paint the image of Christ crucified with four nails as we have seen is not to introduce novelties or inventions of our own, but it is to renew the ancient images that have so much authority and veneration in the Catholic Church and if it is licit that the learned feel and write so in the books that they bring to light and preach and teach it with so much acceptance [. …]The white cloth with which Christ our Lord was covered is a very fair thing to paint, although many writers, as Molano warned, say that he was naked as he was born. We have already said of some ancient images clothed with tunics, – by special inspiration, – But the most ordinary and most used, and which raise the spirit most to devotion, says Molano, are those which are covered with their white cloth; as the Blessed Virgin refers to St. Bridget: ‘When my Son was unknotted, she came to him and gave him a small cloth, with which, to his intimate consolation, he covered himself in the middle of his body’. And it is not without argument that confirms this truth, says a modern scholar, the religious piety with which this sacred cloth, with which the Lord covered his nakedness, is kept and venerated in the noblest city of Aquisgrano for so many years, and which is shown to the people from seven years to seven, is kept and venerated. […] And to finish this point with a royal seal, I will briefly refer to what happened in this regard at El Escorial. On the altar of the trascoro of San Lorenzo el Real, there is a marble Crucifixion, from life, by Benvenuto Cellini, the famous sculptor, which the Grand Duke of Florence sent to the majesty of Philip II, which came without cloth, and all perfectly finished; And, his Majesty going in to see it, and the two Infantas of Savoy and Flanders following him, with their accompaniment, before they arrived, the King, as so prudent and forewarned, took out a handkerchief and covered the parts that should be covered of the Holy Christ, lest his daughters should be offended at his indecency. And, in memory of so pious a deed, his Majesty’s handkerchief remained there, although they later adorned the Crucifix with a large cloth. The religious referred the case to me, while I was looking at it and those who were with me, in the year 1611.”

“Las razones, gravedad de autores y antiguo uso desta pintura son las cosas con que se puede, justamente, acreditar, en que V. m. tan altamente ha discurrido. Y, así digo, comenzando por las que a mí se me ofrecen que: No hay duda, sino que tiene suma dificultad, no dando lugar a milagro, clavar un pie sobre otro junto con el madero de la cruz sin que, al romper el clavo, con la violencia de los golpes se quiebren los güesos de los pies, siendo de fe lo contrario, y es cosa que a doctísimos hombres de nuestro tiempo les hace no pequeña repugnancia. También en las memorias de todos los escritores antiguos ni modernos, aunque scan de la opinión de los tres, no se halla este clavo más largo, o desigual a los demás, que, forzosamente, lo había de ser para pasar los dos pies juntos y el madero de la Cruz, y poderse doblar la punta; […] Otra razón, es la costumbre de los romanos y ser entre ellos lo más común crucificar con cuatro clavos, […] Dos razones se me ofrecen con que me persuado ser esto asi:
La primera, el ser autores griegos en cuya lengua, como es notorio, tiene V. m. tanta destreza que, sin recurrir a intérpretes, podrá alcanzar la fuerza y propriedad de sus sentencias, que es gran ventaja. La segunda, porque me parece imposible que autores tan doctos y antiguos no hablasen en favor de la imagen más antigua en la Iglesia, de Cristo crucificado con cuatro clavos, como veremos adelante, porque los escritores es cierta cosa celebrar lo que tuvo veneración y crédito en su tiempo. Ahora, pues, quién se persuade que fueron tres los clavos, y quiere seguir esta opinión, no me culpe, paresciéndole que me muevo livianamente y considere la antigüedad y gravedad de tantos autores y santos y la munchedumbre de doctos modernos que los siguen, […]Hay otro crucifixo antiguo, mayor que el natural, como el que hizo Nicodemus, en Portugal, en una villa que se llama Matusiños, como dos leguas de la ciudad de Oporto, en la iglesia Mayor; está sin ropa y con corona de espinas y los pies de por sí, clavados en la mesma cruz con dos clavos. Alberto Durero, diligentísimo, docto y santo artífice, habrá casi cien años que debuxó un Crucifixo que yo hallé en un libro de cosas de su mano, que fue de nuestro católico Rey Felipo segundo, con cuatro clavos y el supedáneo, bien así como yo lo executo; cuya autoridad en pinturas sagradas es de grande veneración y poderosa a que se siga su imitación”. Micael Angel, clarísima luz dc la pintura y escultura, hizo para modelo un Crucifixo de una tercia, con cuatro clavos, que gozamos hoy; el cual traxo a este Ciudad, vaciado de bronce, Juan Baptista Franconio, valiente platero, el año de 1597; y, después de haber enriquecido con él a todos los pintores y escultores, dio el original a Pablo de Céspedes, racionero de la Santa Iglesia de Córdoba que, con muncha estimación, lo traía al cuello. Siguió, felicemente, la postura de sus pies, conforme a las revelaciones de Santa Brígida, en cada uno su clavo, nuestro contemporáneo Juan Martines Montañés en el famoso Cristo que dio a la Cartuxa don Mateo Vásquez, arcediano de Carmona; y me afirma que su maestro Pablo de Roxas hizo en Granada, habrá más de cuarenta años, uno de marfil con cuatro clavos para el Conde de Monteagudo Pintó otro así, en Antequera, Antonio Mohedano, […]
Asi, que la crucificación del señor se vee, claramente, que en tiempo de San Gregorio, que fue por los años de 590, se pintaba con cuatro clavos […] Pues, la de los tres clavos, vemos que se comenzó a executar en el tiempo de Lucas Tudense y del bienaventurado San Francisco, que floreció por los años 1200, teniendo la silla pontifical Inocencio III y la del Imperio Otón IV o, como sienten otros, algunos años ant es. Y esta de cuatro clavos comenzó con la Iglesia y la executaron primero los discípulos de Cristo, teniendo fresca la memoria de su sagrada pasión, y presentes tantos testigos de vista. De manera, quc, concluyendo nuestro discurso, digo: Que pintar la imagen de Cristo crucificado con cuatro clavos como hemos visto no es introducir novedades ni invenciones propias, antes es renovar las imágenes antiguas que tienen tanta autoridad y veneración en la Iglesia Católica y si es lícito que lo sientan y escriban así los doctos en los libros que sacan a luz y lo prediquen y enseñen con tanta aceptación […]El paño blanco con que fue cubierto Cristo nuestro Señor es muy justa cosa pintarlo, aunque muchos escritores, como advirtió Molano, digan que estuvo desnudo como nació. Ya habemos dicho de algunas imágenes antiguas vestidas con túnicas, – por especial inspiración, Si bien, las más ordinarias y más usadas y que levantan más el espiritu a la devoción, dice Molano, son las que están cubiertas con su paño blanco; como a Santa Brígida se lo refiere la Santísima Virgen: ‘Estando mi Hijo desnudo se llegó une y le dio un pequeño lienzo, con el cual, con íntimo consuelo suyo, se cubrió por medio del cuerpo’. Y no dexa de ser argumento que confirma esta verdad, dice un docto moderno, la piedad religiosa con que de tantos años a esta parte se guarda y venera en la ciudad nobilísima de Aquisgrano este sagrado lienzo, con que cubrió el Señor su desnudez, el cual se muestra al pueblo de siete en siete años.[…]Y porque remate este punto con sello real, referiré, brevemente, lo que sucedió a este propósito en El Escorial. En el altar del trascoro de San Lorenzo el Real está un Crucifixo de mármol, del natural, de manc de Benvenuto Cellini, famoso escultor, que el Gran Duque de Florencia envió a la majestad de Felipo segundo, el cual vino sin paño, y todo perfetamente acabado; y, entrando su Majestad a verlo, y en su seguimiento las dos Infantas de Saboya y Flandes, con su acompañamiento, antes que llegaran, el Rey, como tan prudente y prevenido, sacó un pañizuelo y cubrió las partes que se debían cubrir del Santo Cristo, porque sus hijas no se ofendiesen de su indecencia. Y, en memoria de tan piadoso hecho, se quedó allí el lenzuelo de su Majestad, aunque adornaron después el Crucifixo con paño grande. Refiriéronme el caso los religiosos, estándolo mirando yo y los que iban conmigo, año 1611.”

Quoted Authorities

Roberto Belarmino, Libro de las Sete Palabras [… ] (1618), Preamble
Angelo Rocca, Opera Omnia (1719), vol. I, 263-264
Molanus, Book 2, 1. 30
Molanus, Book 4, 7. 419-420,441-443
Tratados de Erudicion de Varios Autores (BNS Ms. 1713), 76r-102v

Calvary, Christ, crown of thorns, Crucifixion, death, four nails, Golgotha, last hours, Passion of Christ, Three nails, white robe

Cellini, Benvenuto

Date mention

Date artwork
Historical Location

Madrid, El Escorial Church, altar of the San Lorenzo el Real choir stalls;

Current Location
Madrid, El Escorial Church, the altar of the San Lorenzo el Real choir stalls;
Type of Object

Media Materials

Iconclass Number
73D6; 73D67

Pacheco, El Arte de la pintura (1649), book 3, ch.15-16, 713-728, 734-737

Pacheco 1990,713-719; Pacheco 1990,724-733, n.12-37; Pacheco 1990,737, n. 7

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