RODRIGO DE OSONA THE ELDER
(Valencia, documented between 1463 and 1518)
Four panels from the Passion of Christ
Agony in the Garden, Christ Before Pontius Pilate,
The Way to Calvary (Christ Carrying the Cross), Pietà (The Lamentation of Christ)
Each, Oil on panel,
27 ½ x 18 ⅞ inches (70 x 48 cm)
Private Collection, U.S.A.
Private Collection, Mexico
Private Collection, Madrid
“A La Búsqueda del Toisón de Oro; La Europa de los Principes; La Europa de las ciudades,” Almudín, Museo de la Ciudad, March 23-June 20, 2007.
José Gomez Frechina, in A La Búsqueda del Toisón de Oro; La Europa de los Principes; La Europa de las ciudades, exh. cat, eds. Eduard Mira and An Delva, Almudín, 2007 nos. 170-173.
These four panels comprise a series of scenes from the Passion of Christ, presumably part of a larger altarpiece, by the Valencian painter Rodrigo de Osona the Elder. No other works can at present be associated with the series. Although first identified as works by Rodrigo de Osuna by Chandler Rafton Post, these paintings were not published until the 2007 exhibition, cited above. A translation of the catalogue entries written by José Gomez Frechina appears below:
The Agony in the Garden
This Agony in the Garden and the other three companion panels with scenes from the Passion of Christ (Christ Before Pilate, The Way to Calvary, and Pietà) are unpublished Valencian works of the last quarter of the fifteenth century, exhibited here for the first time, which we associate for stylistic reasons with other works by Rodrigo de Osona. Before their recent entry into Spain, the four panels belonged to an important collection in Mexico, originating in the United States, where they were seen and attributed to Rodrigo de Osuna by Chandler Post (in a letter).
Without a doubt these four independent panels belonged to a predella of a single altarpiece that would have had other companion works, as well as a tabernacle at its center. Cycles of the Passion of Christ appear frequently in Valencia in the second half of the fifteenth century, mostly in series of retablos. In the present case, the first event depicted is The Agony in the Garden, which takes place immediately after the Last Supper. Jesus went to pray at the Mount of Olives with three of his disciples, according to the Gospels (Matthew, 26:36; Mark, 14:32, and Luke, 22:39-46). Here the artist has followed Luke, who specifically mentions Christ praying on his knees and comforted by an angel.
In the depiction of Gethsemane Osona creates a panoramic landscape with a high horizon, cloud-filled sky, and a tall bluff that recall paintings of the same theme in Valencia by the Italian painter Paolo de San Leocadio, which we know exercised an important influence over Rodrigo de Osona, as did those of the itinerant painter from Cordoba Bartolome Bermejo. Similar as well are the postures and gestures of the Apostles Peter, James, and John sleeping in the foreground to the same figures in Paolo da San Leocadio’s Agony in the Garden. The other apostles, infrequently included in depictions of this scene from other regions, are placed in a more distant area. That particular iconography is frequently encountered in Valencia, for example in the paintings by Joan Reixach.
Christ in his pained reverie and kneeling in prayer with his hands together, receives the comfort of an angel carrying a chalice and cross, symbols of the Passion. The cross, not always present in Valencian paintings of this time, appears in various examples by Reixach (Pardo and Lladro collections) and in an Agony in the Garden from the Osona workshop in the Museum of the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence (United States).
Judas Iscariot enters through the gateway to the garden --seen at an angle with its classic architecture, marble columns, a scallop-shell ornament, and stone blocks with receding lines (demonstrating the application of perspective to the pictorial space). Dressed in a long yellow cloak and holding a lantern he leads the temple guards that have crossed the small bridge over the brook Cedron. The figures of Christ and his disciples in the foreground each have golden auras about their heads as in other paintings by Rodrigo de Osona. The figural types, manner of drapery folds, palette, and the enthusiasm for the realism of Flemish sources, evidencing itself in plants and shrubs, all correspond to the known characteristics of Rodrigo de Osona.
Christ Before Pilate
Of the four scenes of the Passion of Christ cycle comprising the predella by Rodrigo de Osona, the present panel is the only one that employs an interior space, here depicting Christ before Pilate. While it might be thought that the subject represents the appearance of Christ before Caiaphas, the fact that the seated dignitary is beardless and attired with a rich dress suggests that he is the Roman Pilate rather than the High Priest Caiaphas, who frequently appears in more extensive Passion series than the present one.
Taken prison by a group of armed soldiers, Jesus appears barefoot and with hands tied before the Roman prefect, dressed in a red tunic adorned with a gold border. He does not wear the Crown of Thorns as he does in the two subsequent panels (The Way to Calvary and Pietà), but is depicted with an aura of golden rays more commonly seen among the Flemish primitives than the Valencian painters of the fifteenth century, a motif that Rodrigo de Osona had already employedin his Altarpiece of Calvary, commissioned from the painter in 1476 by Johan Albarcazi, the priest and vicar of the parish of San Nicolas of Valencia. The type of angular and vigorous folding of Jesus’s tunic, which increases volume and attracts attention in the work under study, is precisely linked to the similar mantle of the Virgin of Osona in the Altarpiece of Calvary.
The narrative character of the passages illustrating the Passion of Christ stresses the relationship between the figures through emotions and gestures, here seen both in the exchange of looks between Jesus and Pilate, as well as with the pointing of Pilate’s index finger, which presages the mocking of Christ.
Pontius Pilate wears a large had and holds a scepter, symbols of his authority, as he sits on a throne, next to his counselor who holds a document. Behind him a brocaded canopy is seen and at his feet appears a rug of possible oriental design, similar to that in the Altarpiece of St. Dionisio (Mass of San Regalo or San Dionisio Enthroned with the Canon) in the Cathedral of Valencia, commissioned from Rodrigo de Osona and his son Francisco in 1500.
The typical Valencian flooring helps to unify and structure the spatial conception of the work, utilizing a single vanishing point, a technique also employed by Rodrigo de Osona in other paintings depicting Christ before Pilate (Valencia, Museo de Bellas Artes; Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado). In those examples, the washing of hands as told in the Gospel of Saint Matthew 27:24 is explicitly shown, while they bear a close compositional relationship to the present work, despite the varying sizes of the panels.
The Way to Calvary
This constitutes the penultimate scene in the series both chronologically and iconographically—following the pair of The Agony in the Garden and Christ Before Pilate – depicting Christ carrying the cross up a hill on the Via Dolorosa towards Golgotha. It is closely connected to the subsequent panel of the Pietà, which frequently completed the series of paintings dedicated to the last moments of Christ in Valencian altarpieces of the second half of the fifteenth century. In this work the iconography specifically follows the Gospels of Matthew, 27:31; Mark, 15:21, and Luke, 23:26, which mention Simon of Cyrene, who is stated to have helped support the weight of the cross.
The large number of figures in this Biblical scene, which takes place outdoors, acquire great prominence in this representation. Closest to the viewer is an arid space with small rocks and broken stones casting shadows, suggesting great depth. Rodrigo de Osona used this same motif in other works. In the background, silhouetted by a cloud-filled sky, appears an idealized vision of the walled city of Jerusalem.
Rodrigo de Osona evokes with this painting the concrete and dramatic moment of the story in which Christ, exhausted by the weight of the cross, falls to the ground on his painful ascent to Calvary. The figure of Christ, dressed with a red tunic and with his gaze directed outward, thus establishing interaction with the viewer, draws our attention together with the diagonals of the cross that traverse the composition. The idea of movement and direction, requisite in this scene, is illustrated by the gestures, the contorted figures, and the direction of the spears.
On his knees and with bare feet, Jesus supports himself with a hand on the ground against the weight of the cross that an assistant helps to lift. He appears stricken by extreme pain, his face dripping with blood from the wounds coming from the crown of thorns. Behind the soldiers, one striking Jesus with a lance and pulling his tunic to force him to stand, appear the figures of Saint John and the Virgin, with a mournful gesture of intertwined fingers at the passage of her son. The figure of the soldier kicking Christ repeats the figure in Reixach’s Way to Calvary in the Pardo collection.
The processional walk to Golgotha is preceded at the front by a herald wearing a brimmed hat sounding a trumpet, as in other contemporary Valencian examples by Joan Reixach and the Master of Perea. A group of soldiers with shields, swords, pikes and a standard with an eagle with two heads ends the group, with reflections on the metal surfaces of the helmets effectively executed with small paint strokes.
The broken folds and angles of Christ’s tunic, very much Flemish characteristics, correspond to the very realistic forms of Rodrigo de Osona, which he must have taken from the rough and robust sculptural qualities of Bartolome Bermejo.
This Pietà, a companion to the three paintings previously studied (Agony in the Garden, Christ Before Pilate, and the Way to Calvary) completes the cycle of the Passion of Christ by Rodrigo de Osona. The placement of this work at the end ofthe narrative sequence following the Way to Calvary, was a customary practice in the Valencian painting of the second half of the fifteenth century.
The image of the Pietà, also known also as the Lamentation of Christ, an important and frequently encountered subject in early Flemish paintings, acquired a significant presence in the history of Valencian painting through the examples of the Flemish painter Luis Alimbrot, painted during his stay in Valencia in the middle of the fifteenth century. Other examples of Flemish miniatures, tapestries, and sculptures helped as well establish this example of Northern iconography into the Valencian sphere. The gospel texts do not actually include passages describing the Deposition of the Christ and The Entombment.
The Virgin, sitting at the feet of the Cross in Golgotha with her face bathed in tears, supports the dead body of Christ between her knees and holds his arm. Christ, whose naked body is partially covered by a cloth, clearly shows the evidence of the Passion, with the appearance of wounds on his hands and feet. He wears a crown of thorns and his head is surrounded by an aura of golden rays. Saint John, mournful and sitting to the left of the Virgin, holds the head of Christ. On the other side, Mary Magdalene kneels by the feet of Christ, recalling the iconography of the anointing of the feet in the house of Simon.
Completing the scene in the second row are, at the left, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, holding pincers and three nails, while at the right Mary Salome and Mary of Cleopas, repeat the same pained expression of the Virgin as in the previous painting. The saints have a thin halo, unlike the golden aura more common in representations of this time.
In this composition Rodrigo de Osona essentially follows the same arrangement as found in the Pietà by Joan Reixach in the Museo de Bellas Artes in Valencia (formerly in the Monastery of Valldecrist in Altura), as well as in another painting by him the Pardo collection, which surely derives from models by the Flemish Alimbrot. The strong Flemish component of the composition, the marked characterization of the emotions with painful grimaces, the wrinkles of the holy man, the taste for depicting the minute details of the dress of Mary Magdalen or the landscape (rocks, vegetation, buildings) reflect the strong effect of the so-called ars nova in the production of Osona.
These four paintings, studied here and belonging as mentioned to an altarpiece predella, give new information toward a better understanding of the universe of forms active within the production of Rodrigo de Osona, operating between the Gothic and Renaissance worlds.