A Wonderful Late Gothic Period Italian Gesso & Softwood Carved ‘Ecce Homo’ Figure of Christ c.1500

Origin: Italian
Period: Late Gothic
Provenance: Unknown
Date: c.1450-1550
Height: 26.5 inches
Width: 37 inches
Depth: 7.5 inches (at maximum)
Weight: 11 KGS

Dating from the Italian late Gothic period the weighty and well carved softwood and gesso figure of Christ, or Ecce Homo, in high relief, pigmented and partly gilded, fitted into a shadow-box arched frame.

The choice of wood a creation has affected the condition of this work of art but the fact it has survived in the main is pleasing and overall it remains a hugely attractive piece in its entirety. There are shrinkage cracks, expected losses and a wonderful aged patina. The losses are predominantly to the face and head, with old worm to some areas and covering the rear panels. The worm is not active but we have treated the piece as a precaution and stabilised it, but have not cleaned the piece. Overall, the work has wear expected and commensurate with its age, now surviving for over five hundred years. It retains its charming original iron strap-work and hanging hook for wall mounting.

This work possibly acted as an adornment over door panel, a tympanum, maybe it was an altarpiece or perhaps it was positioned over a pulpit in an Italian parish church. The best Gothic sculptors were employed on architectural decoration such as this work. The most important examples of figurative sculpture to survive are on portals, as in the church of Saint-Denis whose western portals (constructed 1137-40), combined features that remained common throughout the Gothic period: a carved tympanum; carved figures arranged in the voussoirs, or wedge-shaped pieces, of the arch; and more figurative carvings attached to the sides of the portal.

Gothic art, being exclusively religious art, lent powerful tangible weight to the growing power of the Church in Rome. This not only inspired the public, as well as its secular leaders - an important feature especially during times of hardship, such as the Black Death which killed a third of Europe's population during the second half of the 14th century - but also it firmly established the connection between religion and art, which was one of the foundations of the Early Renaissance.

This type of art had the immediacy and drama then that movies today have for modern audiences with the most humble of peasants being able to relate to what they saw, namely birth, suffering and death to their own life in their village. Ecce Homo, ‘Behold the Man’, shows Jesus stripped and brought before the people by the members of the Roman council, who are flanked by soldiers. The people mock and jeer Jesus, who wears a Crown of Thorns. His hands are bound with shackles, while the redness of the now raw flesh on his legs, hands and chest attests to the fact that he has been beaten with a scourge.

Not just a fantastically decorative element of museum quality but a special item of devotion, significant age and importance where Christ is shown to be utterly human, as a stooped, humiliated, man.