Recreating an Old Master 1: Velasquez, Christ Crucified, oil on canvas

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The Painter

Diego Velazquez (1599 – 1660) was a Spanish painter who was the leading artist in the court of King Philip IV and one of the most important painters of the Spanish Golden Age. He was an individualistic artist of the contemporary Baroque period, important as a portrait artist. In addition to numerous renditions of scenes of historical and cultural significance, he painted scores of portraits of the Spanish royal family, other notable European figures, and commoners, culminating in the production of his masterpiece Las Meninas (1656).

The Painting

Christ Crucified is a painting of 1632 by Diego Velázquez depicting the Crucifixion of Jesus. The work, painted in oil on canvas, measures 98″ x 66″ and is owned by the Museo del Prado. Velazquez painted the crucified Christ using the accepted iconography of the period: four nails, feet together and supported against a little wooden brace, in a classic contrapposto posture.
Both arms draw a subtle curve, instead of forming a triangle. The purity cloth is painted rather small, thus showing the nude body as much as possible. The head shows a narrow halo, as if it came from the figure itself; the face is posed on the chest, showing just enough of his characteristics. The long, straight hair, covers a great part of the face, perhaps anticipating the death, already inflicted as shown by the wound on the right side. It lacks the characteristic dramatic qualities of Baroque painting. The influence of Classicist painting is shown by the calm posture of the body, the idealized face and the leaning head. On the other hand, the Caravaggism influence can be seen in the strong Chiaroscuro between the background and the body, and in the strong, artificial lightning over the cross.
It was most likely a commission for the San Plácido Convent sacristy. The painting was among the impounded items of Manuel Godoy, but was returned to María Teresa de Borbón, 15th Countess of Chinchón. After her death, the painting was passed on to his brother-in-law, the Duke of San Fernando de Quiroga, who gave it to King Fernando VII. The king then sent the painting to the Museo del Prado.

New Commission for St Eugene’s Cathedral, Derry, N.Ireland

In 2005 I was commissioned to recreate a version of Velasquez’s Christ Crucified for St. Eugene’s Cathedral in Derry. I decided that instead of the full painting I would focus in on a detail of the painting. This then would be the task…

The Detail

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I began with establishing both the size of the painting and the “canvas”. In this case I decided to use MDF instead of canvas. The MDF (although heavier) once primed, would provide a flat untextured surface suitable for the accurate reproduction of such fine, intricate painting.

STEP 1: The Board/ Size/Priming.

The first step was to cut the standard 8ft x 4ft MDF sheet down to 4ft x 5ft. This would suit the selected detail. Next came priming. The boards were initially primed with three coats of Matt emulsion (same paint as used for home decoration). I allowed for at least two hours between coats. After which I then primed over the top of the emulsion with three more coats of white gesso. Gesso is the standard material used by artists to prime canvas. It is a mixture of chalk and gypsum with a binder. This would create a very smooth surface for painting.


Recreating an Old Master 1: Velasquez, Christ Crucified, oil on canvas

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