Above is the image of Christ that I came across while visiting the Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum for the Gentile Bellini exhibit several weekends ago. It was Bellini’s brother Giovanni (c. 1430-1516) or someone in his immediate circle who created the above work, entitled Christ Carrying the Cross (c. 1505-10, oil on wood, Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum, Boston).
The painting isn’t large. In fact, it’s easy to miss, tucked away in a corner of the Titian Room. I had seen it on a postcard in the gift shop and had to ask a security guard about it, because it’s so difficult to find.
I fell in love with it as soon as I saw it up close. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I fell in love with the model. I found myself thinking a lot about him. Who was he? Was he a young priest who struck Bellini as especially Christlike? What about him inspired Bellini? It would be easy to conclude that it was his strikingly beautiful face, but perhaps there was something else. Maybe he wasn’t a cleric at all, but was simply a young man connected in some way to the patrons who paid for the painting. Perhaps he was simply a fellow artist. Whoever he was, he was gorgeous.
While looking for a high-quality digital image of Bellini’s Christ—I forgot to bring the postcard I had purchased to work for scanning—I came across his Pietà (c. 1474, tempera on panel, Pinacoteca Comunale, Rimini). Although the model who posed for this Christ isn’t nearly as handsome as the model discussed above, I thought I would include this image, if for no other reason than that it is another example of a Renaissance artist showing Christ’s pubes. Take a close look, they’re there. You might also take a close look at the two angels standing on the left. Notice anything interesting? I think that Bellini might have been having a bit of subversive fun here. Let me know if you think you see what I see.