With its meticulously rendered detail and remarkably luminous, enamel-like surface, this previously unpublished depiction of Ecce Homo is a striking example of Carlo Dolci’s deeply emotive devotional imagery. Intensely pious, Dolci expressed his beliefs through his artistic output, which was almost exclusively devoted to religious subjects. Dolci's biographer, Filippo Baldinucci mentions that Dolci painted ‘un cristo coronato di spine’ when he was just eleven (Notizie dei professori del disegno, Florence, 1847, V, p. 340), and it was a subject he returned to throughout his career.
‘[S]ometimes he would take weeks over a single foot’ (ibid), Baldinucci wrote about Dolci's painstaking painting method, and here this dedicated and exacting process is evident in the fine, copper-toned reflections in the hair and the silky-smooth rendering of Christ’s mantle. Dolci’s meticulous technique is said to have stemmed from his belief that each visual detail was equally worthy of importance, as each had been created by God.
This is a unique treatment of the subject in Dolci’s oeuvre. Baldassari lists nine variants, all of roughly the same size and on the same support, which depict Christ in close-up with an overwhelming emphasis on the pathos of his face, for example the Ecce Homo, dated 1646, in which a rope hangs over Christ's shoulders (Florence, Palazzo Pitti; ibid, p. 161). In contrast, here Dolci has created a more substantial work, the largest of all these treatments, showing Christ half-length, which allows him to portray the vivid colours of Christ’s draperies set off against the subtle pallor of his face.
The subject clearly had a particular poignancy, both for the artist and for his patrons; but the way his pictures of it follow in sequence, subtly varied and given differing visual emphasis, was wholly characteristic of Dolci and can also be followed, for example, in the sequence of his pictures of the Adoration of the Magi.
Dolci’s Ecce Homo shows his understanding of earlier Florentine masters, not only Bronzino, as is commonly noted, but also knowledge of the marble sculptures of Gregoria di Lorenzo and Andrea del Verrocchio. The latter’s well-known marble Lady with a Bunch of Flowers (Florence, Bargello Museum), may well be the catalyst for Dolci’s tender portrayal of Christ’s hands crossing over his body.