Antonello from Messina (Messina 1430 -1479), The Crucifixion, 1475, oil on wood, cm 59,7x42,5, Antwerp, Royal Museum of Fine Arts.
The small painting was certainly to be used for the private devotion of an important person who had commissioned the painting. Antonello put his signature on the lower left cartridge where he wrote: "1475 - Antonellus messaneus me pinxit" (Antonello of Messina painted me in 1475).
Some elements need to be highlighted. First of all the contrast between the calm of Jesus, crucified in the center of the scene, and the two condemned with him, who are hung on two trunks. Their disordered position seems to indicate their rebellion in the face of condemnation, while Jesus completely accepted to go toward death, even unjustly, because it is part of his Father's will and mission in the world.
The only witnesses of the scene are Mary, the mother of Jesus, who, sitting on the ground, seems abandoned to meditation on what is happening, and John, the beloved disciple, who in turn seems to contemplate the torment to which Jesus, the Master, is subjected.
There are also many symbols in the many details that we can notice if we approach the work with an attentive eye. The owl, which is a nocturnal animal, can represent all those who have departed from the light and live in the darkness of sin; the snakes that pass through the skull in the foreground remind us of the original sin. At the foot of the cross there is a skull because, according to a medieval belief, Jesus' cross was erected exactly on Adam's tomb: this means that the salvation made by Jesus rises exactly to reverse the fall of original sin, the cause of the presence of evil in the world and in the life of humanity. Next to the wood of the cross, there is a new shoot, to represent the new life that was generated by Christ's sacrifice.
A final note concerns the landscape in the background. According to recent studies, the hills of painting are inspired by Antonello's actual vision of the Strait of Messina from the hills of the valley of the Camaro torrent, a fairly large river that flowed through the Strait.
I like to think that placing the Crucifixion of Jesus in a real and contemporary landscape for the painter and the client of the work means that he, while contemplating the scene of Christ's death on the cross - as Mary and John do -, relives the mystery in the actuality of his life.
Thank you, Lord Jesus,
because with your death you redeemed the world!