There are examples of crucifixions and crucifixes in art and culture that predate the pagan Roman Empire.
Since the fourth century CE, the crucifixion of Jesus has been shown in a variety of religious artwork. Oftentimes, melancholy onlookers, the Virgin Mary, angels, Pontius Pilate, etc. make an appearance.
The crucifixion has been depicted in film, television, and fine art in more recent times, and not just the crucifixion of Christ.
Images of the crucifixion have become more commonplace in contemporary art and popular culture, either to communicate a point that has nothing to do with Christian iconography or just to shock the viewer.
Jesus was crucified and died in 1st century Judea, around the years 30 or 33 CE. The four canonical gospels, the epistles of the New Testament, and other ancient sources all record and attest to this event, therefore it is widely accepted as having occurred and is studied as historical fact. Historians can’t seem to agree on the finer points.
Famous Crucifixion Paintings
1. Christ Crucified – Diego Velázquez
The famous painting of Christ on the Cross was completed by Spanish artist Diego Velazquez in 1632.
This is one of Diego Velazquez’s most well-known secular works; he also painted a few religious pieces for Philip IV of Spain.
The crucifixion of Jesus is depicted here in a far more subdued fashion than in the artist’s other works from the same period.
Several of Velazquez’s later works, including Apollo at the Forge of Vulcan and Joseph’s Tunic, incorporate nude studies the artist made while in Rome.
But Christ on the crucifixion is shown in a more straightforward, sad, and serious way.
Upon inspection, one finds just a nearly lifelike naked picture staring back at one from the canvas.
Although there are early sittings with real models, the work is widely regarded to have been completed in Spain after the artist returned from Italy in 1631.
It is currently on view at the Museo del Prado in Madrid.
2. Corpus Hypercubus – Salvador Dalí
Salvador Dali painted Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus) in 1954 using oil on canvas. It’s a surrealist take on the conventional Crucifixion story, showing Jesus suspended from the polyhedral net of a tesseract (hypercube). One of his most famous works at the end of his career.
In line with his nuclear mysticism theory, Dali incorporates both classical and scientifically-inspired components.
Like his 1951 painting Christ of Saint John of the Cross, Corpus Hypercubus takes the traditional biblical scene of Christ’s Crucifixion and almost completely reinvents it, with some noticeably classic features such as the drapery of the clothing and the Caravaggesque lighting that theatrically envelops Christ.
Dali’s belief, as represented by the joining of Christ and the tesseract, is that science and religion, which at first glance seem to be at odds with one another, may, in reality, coexist. Dali’s “metaphysical, transcending cubism” is how he characterized his finished Corpus Hypercubus.
3. Mond Crucifixion – Raphael
Oil on poplar panel, the Mond Crucifixion or Gavari Altarpiece is dated to 1502–1503, making it one of the earliest works by Italian Renaissance artist Raphael, and maybe the second earliest after the c.1499–1500 Baronci Altarpiece.
The main panel depicting Christ on the Cross with the Virgin Mary, Saints, and Angels was donated to the National Gallery in London by Ludwig Mond, although only three of the original four pieces remain today.
The North Carolina Museum of Art has the third panel of a three-panel predella depicting Saint Jerome saving Silvanus and punishing the Heretic Sabinianus, while the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga in Lisbon has the panel depicting Eusebius of Cremona performing the same miracle.
Domenico Gavari, a wool merchant from Urbino who commissioned this early work by Raphael, had it installed as the altarpiece in the chapel where he was buried at the church of San Domenico in Città di Castello, Umbria.
The painting’s original pietra serena stone frame, with the year 1503 written on it, is still in the Saint Jerome side chapel. As a friend of Andrea Baronci, for whom Raphael had previously created the Baronci Altarpiece, Gavari was a client of the artist.
4. Crucifixion of St. Peter – Caravaggio
Known in Italian as Crocifissione di san Pietro, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio’s 1601 painting for the Cerasi Chapel of Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome depicts the crucifixion of Saint Peter.
Another Caravaggio painting showing Saint Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus is located across the church (1601). The Assumption of the Virgin Mary by Annibale Carracci stands on the altar between them.
This painting shows Saint Peter being executed. Tradition holds that when Peter was sentenced to death in Rome, he asked to be crucified invert because he did not think any man deserved to die the same way Jesus did.
The three executioners are seen on the massive canvas struggling to straighten the cross. Peter has been nailed to the ceiling and is now bleeding from his hands and feet. The apostle’s near-naked state highlights his frailty.
Although he is obviously quite elderly (bald on top and with a gray beard), he still appears to have quite a bit of physical strength given his musculature.
He struggles to his feet from the cross and twists his entire body as if looking for something that isn’t there (God). He seems disoriented and doesn’t seem to be looking at the people who are about to execute him.
5. The Crucifixion of St. Peter – Michelangelo
A fresco by Michelangelo Buonarroti, titled “The Crucifixion of St. Peter,” depicts the crucifixion of the apostle (c. 1546–1550). It is located in the Vatican’s Cappella Paolina, which is part of the Vatican Palace in Rome’s Vatican City. Michelangelo’s final fresco.
The artist immortalized the moment when St. Peter was hoisted up onto the cross by the Roman troops. Michelangelo centered his work towards showing human misery.
Everybody here seems like they’re in a lot of pain. In 1541, Michelangelo completed a fresco for Pope Paul that he had commissioned for his Cappella Paolina.
After years of neglect, the fresco was restored in 2009, and the picture that was previously hidden was found to be what is widely accepted as a self-portrait by Michelangelo.
In the top left corner of the fresco, the figure is shown standing while dressed in a red tunic and a blue turban. In order to keep the dust out of their hair, Renaissance sculptors frequently wore blue turbans.
6. Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion – Francis Bacon
Francis Bacon, a British artist of Irish ancestry, completed a triptych in 1944 titled Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion.
The paintings depict the three writhing humanoid creatures known as the Eumenides from Aeschylus’s Oresteia, set against a flat, burned orange background.
It was completed in under two weeks using oil paint and pastel on Sundeala fibre board. The triptych is a culmination of Bacon’s earlier investigations into Picasso’s biomorphs, his interpretation of the Crucifixion, and his presentation of the Greek Furies.
Bacon had planned to paint a vast crucifixion scene with the figures gathered around the base of the cross, but he never finished the piece.
7. Crucifixion with a Donor – Hieronymus Bosch
It is estimated that Hieronymus Bosch painted Crucifixion with a Donor around 1480–1485. Currently, the painting can be shown in Brussels at the Royal Museums of Fine Arts.
The crucifixion subject appears in several works by Hieronymus Bosch, but only as a minor element. Another rarity among the master’s oeuvre is the inclusion of a portrait of a benefactor.
There is a stunning harmony and calm to the aesthetic. The drapes are subdued and the flesh tones of Christ’s body are muted. It’s easy on the eyes to take in the countryside’s depth of field because to the subtle gradations of green.
8. The Crucifixion of Saint Andrew – Caravaggio
Caravaggio, an Italian Baroque painter, painted “The Crucifixion of Saint Andrew” in 1607. The Spanish Viceroy of Naples took it to Spain in 1610, and the Cleveland Museum of Art now owns it after purchasing it from the Arnaiz collection there in 1976.
The martyrdom of Saint Andrew was traditionally thought to have occurred in the Greek city of Patras. It is stated that the saint, who was crucified and tied to the cross for two days, spoke to the throng and won over enough converts that they demanded his release.
In response to the saint’s petition that he be allowed to undergo martyrdom, the Roman Proconsul Aegeas, represented at lower right, had him dragged down, and his men were miraculously struck with paralysis.
Saint Andrew was traditionally depicted being crucified on a slanted cross beginning in the 17th century; nevertheless, Caravaggio’s work is likely influenced by the 16th century assumption that Andrew was executed on a regular Latin cross.
9. Crocifissione – Masaccio
Masaccio’s The Crucifixion is a tempera painting on wood that was originally the upper central compartment of the Polyptych of Pisa but has since been dismantled and distributed among various museums and private collections.
The painting dates back to 1426, measures 83 by 63 centimeters, and is on display at Naples’ National Museum of Capodimonte.
Three “mourners,” the Virgin, St. John, and Mary Magdalene, are seen kneeling in the center of this panel, showing their sorrow at the crucifixion (very recognizable by the typical red dress). The latter is almost entirely the result of his desperation gesture, which consists of spreading his arms and bending forward.
When viewed from the front, Christ’s head seems to sink all the way into his shoulders, as if he had already given up the fight against death. The neck is obscured by the unusually bulging chest when viewing the table from above, however this is the correct orientation for viewing the table in its original setting. Torture may have broken the legs, but even the body is thrown off balance by the viewpoint.
Masaccio attempted a foreshortened perspective using Christ’s body, but the result was more awkward than convincing. Whatever the case may be, the fact that it was the first attempt of its type is a testament to the openness to innovation that pervaded the early Florentine Renaissance.
10. Christ of Saint John of the Cross – Salvador Dalí
Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow, Scotland, is home to Christ of Saint John of the Cross, a 1951 painting by Salvador Dali.
It shows Jesus hanging from a cross above a body of water with a fishing boat and a fisherman in the distance against a nighttime sky.
Dali was convinced in a dream that including nails, blood, and a crown of thorns would take away from his portrayal of Christ, therefore he left them out of his depiction of the crucifixion.
The dream also revealed to him the significance of depicting Christ at the extreme angle seen in the artwork.
In order to create a likeness of Christ, Dali hung Hollywood stuntman Russell Saunders from a gantry above the studio so he could study the body from the necessary perspective and visualize the effects of gravity on the human form.
The water in the artwork is the bay of Port Lligat, where Dali lived at the time.