Made after Michelangelo's highly finished presentation drawing of about 1540 given by the artist to Vittoria Colonna, Marchesa di Pescara, and now in the British Museum, London (Corpus 411; H. Chapman, Michelangelo Drawings: Closer to the Master, exhib. cat., Haarlem, Teylers Museum, and London, British Museum, 2005-06, no. 91). Vasari records that Michelangelo presented three such drawings, the Crucifixion, a Pietà now in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and a Christ and the Woman of Samaria now lost, to Colonna, whose closeness to his own spiritual and religious views inspired his deep affection. The unusual representation of the subject reflects the deep importance that Vittoria Colonna's circle attached to personal experience of God through devotional contemplation. As Hugo Chapman notes, this individual interpretation is very perceptively described by Michelangelo's pupil and biographer Ascanio Condivi: 'for love of her [Vittoria Colonna] he also made a drawing of Christ on the Cross, not in the semblance of death, as is normally found, but alive with his face upturned to the Father, and he seems to be saying "Eli, Eli". Here we see that body not as an abandoned corpse falling, but as a living being, contorted and suffering in bitter torment' (quoted in H. Chapman, op. cit., p. 254).
Giulio Clovio was also a member of the intellectual circle around Vittoria Colonna. He may have known Michelangelo when they were both in Rome before the city was sacked in 1527, but a much closer relationship developed after Clovio returned to the service of Michelangelo's patron Cardinal Alessandro Farnese in 1540. The influence of the older artist can be seen in many of Clovio's inventions, for example his manuscript illuminations for the Farnese Hours now in the British Library. A number of finely drawn copies of Michelangelo's compositions are known, for example a Christ on the Cross sold at Christie's, New York, 24 January 2006, lot 10, and copies of The Flagellation, of Venus, Vulcan and Cupid and of Tityus in the Royal Library, Windsor Castle (A.E. Popham and J. Wilde, The Italian Drawings of the XV and XVI Centuries in the Collection of His Majesty the King at Windsor Castle, London, 1949, nos. 451, 454 and 459).
The early history of Michelangelo's drawing after Vittoria Colonna's death in 1547 is not known, but Clovio and other artists would preseumably have had access to it during her lifetime. Another version of the composition, also attributed to Clovio, is in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, while further apparently contemporary versions of varying quality are in the Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest, the Kupferstichkabinett, Dresden, the British Museum, the Louvre, and formerly in the Mond Collection (P. Joannides, op. cit, no. 67, and pp. 307-8).
We are grateful for Professor Joannides' kind help in cataloguing this drawing.