Spanish Art

Cristo en la cruz

'Cristo en la cruz' (Christ on the Cross) is a painting that depicts Christ's crucifixion that was painted by the Baroque Spanish painter Francisco de Zurbarán in 1627. This painting is considered to be one of the most perfect studies of the human anatomy in Spanish art history.

The Painting

Spanish Art - Cristo en la Cruz

'Cristo en la cruz' is a Baroque painting which is painted on a canvas background with the use of oil paints. It measures 2.9 metres in height by 1.68 metres in width. In the painting, Christ appears nailed to a wooden cross wearing only a piece of white material around his waist.

The body of Christ is painted extremely accurately by Francisco de Zurbarán. The muscles of Christ are shown very taught and defined. The way in which Zurbarán painted the body suggests that he had studied the human anatomy, or at the very least, the Italian masters from the earlier centuries.

In contrast, the piece of white material around Christ's waist is depicted as being very soft and fluid. The material is painted in a Baroque style and is a great example of Zurbarán's skills as painting different materials in great detail.

The time frame of the painting is the point just before Christ's death. His whole body is leant forward from exhaustion and his head is hanging down to His right hand shoulder. The body is both tortured and in pain, yet it still remains graceful and glorious. This makes an extremely powerful image and begs the audience to sympathise with the painting's subject.

The suffering of Christ is highlighted further by the use of the dark, black background, a technique that Zurbarán learnt from studying the work of Caravaggio. The juxtaposition of the darkness with the paleness of Christ's body further enhances the painting. It also provides Zurbarán with an opportunity to use the light in order to create a more subtle image of Christ.

The light in the picture is portrayed as entering the painting laterally from the left hand side. Consequently, the shadows that fall on the right hand side of Christ's body mean that the wound from being stabbed with the sword is out of sight hence there was no need for Zurbarán to paint lots of blood. 'Cristo en la cruz' is therefore a more graceful version of this biblical scene. However Zurbarán has followed some of his contemporaries by painting four nails instead of just three which was more common in earlier paintings.

Spanish Art - Cristo en la Cruz

Above the body of Christ, on the top of the cross, the typical Latin and Hebrew inscription can be found, which was a common feature in all paintings of Christ on the cross during this time. Below Christ's feet is a small piece of paper that has been nailed to the cross which contains the signature of the painter. This was a common feature of Zurbarán's paintings.


In 1626, Francisco de Zurbarán signed a new contract with the members of the Dominican Order of San Pablo el Real in the city of Seville. In order to complete this contract, Zurbarán had to paint a total of twenty-one paintings in the space of only eight months. The painting, 'Cristo en la cruz' was painted in 1627 as part of this collection of works. Following its completion, the painting of Christ on the cross was extremely well received by his contemporaries, especially by the City Council of Seville. The painting was put on display in the city in 1629.

Today, the painting is on display in the Art Institute of Chicago in the USA. Before it arrived in this museum, the painting had changed hands many times. Just some of its previous owners include Joseph Bonaparte, the former King of Spain, the French Duke Ernest Louis Hyacinthe Arrighi de Casanova, and St Mary's College in Canterbury, England.

© Spanish Arts 2011