Cranach’s Christ’s Head with Crown of Thorns (c.1520-25)

Albrecht Dürer famously depicted himself as Christ in 1500 by giving Christ his own features. Of that there is little doubt. I have already shown that Cranach did something similar in a woodcut of Christ's head in 1503. In fact, by the time Cranach painted this panel in the early 1520's, many other artists including Piero della Francesca and Mantegna had depicted themselves as Christ as well. By now, it was nothing new. How then does Cranach reveal this Christ to be a representation of his own self? Although it does not resemble him, as his earlier Christ did, there is no chance that the head at left is not Cranach's own personal Christ. It must be or it would not be true. Truth is found inside, not out.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Cranach. Christ's Head with Crown of Thorns (c.1520-25) Oil and tempera on limewood. Private Collection

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Bodo Brinkmann and Gabriel Dette recently claimed that Cranach's panel "is based on the vera ikon, the true face of Christ" though, they added, "it differs in crucial ways from the traditional treatment....The facial type no longer corresponds to the traditional picture of Christ with a separate beard and moustache." They also note that the open mouth and teeth are unusual as well. Here's why.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Cranach. Christ's Head with Crown of Thorns (c.1520-25)

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Christ's beard and moustache are one shape because Cranach's beard and moustache were not separated. In fact, the shapes of the two men's facial hair are relatively similar even if the hairs of Cranach's Christ are thicker and more luxuriant.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Left: Detail of Cranach's Christ's Head with Crown of Thorns
Right: Detail of Cranach's self-portrait

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Lastly, for someone else to figure out what this means, I showed in Cranach's 1510 Martyrdom of St. Barbara (detail, near right) that the rocks form half a face with an empty eye-hole behind the sword's tip. Below can be seen half a broad nose and open mouth with a thick upper lip angled in the center over a lower one, round and full, and then a chin below that. Inside the mouth is an unrealistic row of even teeth evenly spaced. Why Christ's teeth match those inside Barbara's rock is beyond me. Nevertheless, the unexpected similarity does confirm the existence of this rock-face that no other analyst has ever noted.

Captions for image(s) above:

Left: Detail of Cranach's Christ's Head with Crown of Thorns
Right: Detail of Cranach's Martyrdom of St. Barbara (c.1510)

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Notes:

Original Publication Date on EPPH: 09 Aug 2012. © Simon Abrahams. Articles on this site are the copyright of Simon Abrahams. To use copyrighted material in print or other media for purposes beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. Websites may link to this page without permission (please do) but may not reproduce the material on their own site without crediting Simon Abrahams and EPPH.