Ecce Homo
Yearc. 1605
MediumOil on canvas
Dimensions128 cm × 103 cm (50 in × 41 in)
LocationPalazzo Bianco (Genoa)

Ecce Homo (c. 1605/06 or 1609 according to John Gash[1]) is a painting by the Italian Baroque master Caravaggio. It is housed in the Palazzo Bianco, Genoa. Contemporary accounts claim the piece was part of a unannounced competition between three artists, and that the Caravaggio version was eventually sent to Spain.


The Crowning with Thorns in Prato
Ecce Homo, Cigoli, 1607. Pitti Palace

According to Giambatista Cardi, nephew of the Florentine artist Cigoli, Cardinal Massimo Massimi commissioned paintings on the theme of Ecce Homo from three artists, Cigoli, Caravaggio, and Domenico Passignano, without informing the artists of the multiple commissions. Cardi claimed the cardinal preferred Cigoli's version.[2][3] The Passignano painting has never resurfaced.[4]

The scene is taken from the Gospel of John, 19:5. Pontius Pilate displays Christ to the crowd with the words, "Ecce homo!" ("Behold the man").[5] Caravaggio's version of the scene combined Pilate's display with the earlier moment of Christ, already crowned with thorns, mockingly robed like a king by his tormentors. Massimi already possessed a Crowning with Thorns by Caravaggio (thought to be the Crowning with Thorns in Prato[6]), and Ecce Homo may have been intended as a companion piece. Stylistically, the painting displays characteristics of Caravaggio's mature Roman-period style. The forms are visible close-up and modelled by dramatic light, the absence of depth or background, and the psychological realism of, the torturer, who seems to mix sadism with pity. Pilate, in keeping with tradition, is shown as a rather neutral and perhaps almost sympathetic figure. He is also depicted wearing anachronistic clothing which was more contemporary to Caravaggio's time.

The contract for Ecce Homo was signed on 25 June 1605, with the painting to be delivered at the beginning August 1605.[7] Whether Caravaggio met his deadline is uncertain, as by July he was arrested for attacking the house of Laura della Vecchia and her daughter, Isabella.[8] Friends stood bail for him, but on 29 July he was in far more serious trouble for assaulting the notary Mariano Pasqualone over a well-known courtesan Lena and Caravaggio's model who is referred to by Pasqualone in the police complaint as "Michelangelo's (i.e. Caravaggio's) girl". Consequently, Caravaggio fled to Genoa until the end of August. He continued to be in trouble with the law throughout the year, with a complaint against him in September for throwing stones at his landlady's house, and a mysterious incident in October in which he was wounded in the throat and ear (Caravaggio claimed he had fallen on his own sword).[9] In May 1606 he fled Rome again after killing Ranuccio Tomassoni in a duel, and he was not settled in Naples until the latter part of that year. Cigoli's Ecce Homo was not painted until 1607,[3] and clearly attempts to mimic Caravaggio's style, suggesting that Massimi had not yet received his Caravaggio and was turning elsewhere. It is instructive to compare the two paintings: Caravaggio, unlike Cigoli, has dropped the convention of showing Christ's torturer as a grotesque, and has shown Pilate dressed as a 17th-century official.

Up until World War II the painting hung in a stairwell of the nautical school in Genoa, listed in the inventory as a copy by Leonello Spada. It was moved during the war, and for a time was considered lost. It was rediscovered in 1953 by the Genoa Director of Fine arts, Caterina Marcenaro, in the Palazzo Ducale.[10]

The painting has twice been loaned for exhibitions in the United States. The most recent was for the bicentennial celebration of Genoas sister city of Columbus, Ohio in 2012 at the Columbus Museum of Art.[11][12]


Examinations after its rediscovery in 1953 revealed the painting was restored at some point during the eighteenth century. It was restored for its second time in 1954, by Pico Cellini in Rome.[13] The painting was in very poor condition by 1954 and during the relining process Cellini had to add several inches of new cloth to all four edges of the canvas.[14] The restoration is now thought to have been "particularly invasive" and may have gone so far as to have had "the addition of superficial shadows", leaving it "difficult to judge with certainty the autography of the underlying painting". This has led to many doubts about the autograph status of the work or even it could be attributed to Caravaggio.[15]

The most recent restoration was carried out in Genoa by Cristina Bonavera Parodi in 2003.[13] During this operation a full examination of the painting was made with new techniques including X-rays, Infrared reflectography, UV light reader, and optical microscopy. The curator who oversaw the process, Anna Orlando, believes a clear attribution of the work can be made to Caravaggio.[16]

Disputed attribution

The painting was first attributed to Caravaggio in 1954 by noted art historian and Caravaggio scholar Roberto Longhi and Marcenaro.[15] Other scholars, such as Sebastian Schutze, dispute the attribution of this work to Caravaggio, with Schutze noting that "the composition seems extremely cramped, and its narrative structure strangely fractured. The Roman governor seems to belong to a quite different plane of reality; he appears like the donor figure in an altarpiece and is painted in a different manner, with his facial features exaggerated almost to the point of caricature."[17] Other scholars, including Anna Orlando (the curator who oversaw its most recent restoration)[16] and Lorenzo Pericolo, believe it to be a genuine Caravaggio.[18]

Madrid Ecce Homo

The Caravaggio Ecce Homo was reported by near contemporaries, such as Giovanni Bellori in his Lives of the Artists, to have been taken to Spain.[19][4] In April 2021 a minor work believed to be from the circle of a Spanish follower of Caravaggio, Jusepe de Ribera, was withdrawn from sale at the Madrid auction house Ansorena. The painting had been brought to Ansorena by three Spanish siblings who had inherited it from their father, Antonio Pérez de Castro. Pérez de Castro was the founder of the IADE school of design and fashion in Madrid and had reportedly received the painting in the 1970s as part of a family inheritance. The painting has been in the possession of the family since 1823, when it was exchanged for another work from the Real Academia of San Fernando, where it had been listed as “Ecce-Hommo con dos saiones de Carabaggio”. This attribution was later lost or changed to Ribera or his circle. The Museo del Prado alerted the Ministry of Culture, which placed a preemptive export ban on the painting leading to its withdrawal from the auction. Stylistic evidence, as well as the similarity of the models to those in other Caravaggio works, has convinced some experts that the painting is the original Caravaggio work for the 1605 Massimo Massimi commission. Colnaghis will be restoring the painting and the gallery will be handling the future sale of the work.[20][21][22][23] Some Caravaggio experts, such as Maria Cristina Terzaghi, believe the 111 centimetres (44 in) by 86 centimetres (34 in) painting to be by Caravaggio, citing its similarity in style and technique to known autograph works. While others, including Nicola Spinosa, have expressed skepticism over the attribution.[24][25]

See also


  1. ^ Gash, John (2003). Caravaggio. Chaucer. ISBN 1-904449-22-0.
  2. ^ "Cigoli : Ecce Homo". Web Gallery of Art.
  3. ^ a b "Ecce Homo : Cigoli". Uffizi Gallery.
  4. ^ a b "THE MOCKING OF CHRIST (BARTOLOMEO MANFREDI)". Matthiesen Gallery.
  5. ^ "Ecce Homo". Encyclopædia Britannica.
  6. ^ Puglisi, Catherine (1998). Caravaggio. Phaidon Press. pp. 228–233.
  7. ^ Hunt, Patrick (2004). Caravaggio. London: Haus Publishing. p. 101.
  8. ^ Langdon, Helen (1998). Caravaggio: A Life. Farrar Straus & Giroux. pp. 298–300. ISBN 0-374-11894-9.
  9. ^ Graham-Dixon, Andrew (2011). Caravaggio: A life sacred and profane. London: Penguin Books. pp. 293–298. ISBN 978-0-713-99674-6.
  10. ^ Lambert, Gilles (2000). Caravaggio. Taschen. p. 86.
  11. ^ Starker, Melissa (Oct 19, 2011). "Preview: Caravaggio: Behold the Man! The Impact of a Revolutionary Realist". Columbus Alive. Gannett Co., Inc.
  12. ^ "Caravaggio work on loan to be centerpiece". The Columbus Dispatch. May 4, 2011.
  13. ^ a b Bonavera Parodi, Cristina (2019). "L'ultimo restauro dell'Ecce Homo di Genova (2003)". In Orlando, Anna (ed.). Caravaggio e i genovesi. Committenti, collezionisti, pittori, catalogo della mostra a cura di A. Orlando ("Caravaggio and the Genoese. Clients, collectors, painters, exhibition catalog edited by A. Orlando"). Genoa: Sagep Editori. pp. 68–75. ISBN 978-88-6373-621-2. OCLC 1085594573.
  14. ^ Moir, Alfred (1982). Caravaggio. Harry N. Abrams, Inc. p. 100.
  15. ^ a b Bompani, Michela (April 10, 2021). "Caravaggio, the challenge between Genoa and Madrid: there are two Ecce homo". la Repubblica.
  16. ^ a b Orlando, Anna (2019). Caravaggio e i genovesi. Committenti, collezionisti, pittori, catalogo della mostra a cura di A. Orlando ("Caravaggio and the Genoese. Clients, collectors, painters, exhibition catalog edited by A. Orlando"). Genoa: Sagep Editori. p. 46. ISBN 978-88-6373-621-2. OCLC 1085594573.
  17. ^ Schutze, Sebastian (2015). Caravaggio. Taschen. ISBN 978-3-8365-5581-4.
  18. ^ Struhal, Eva, Review : Lorenzo Pericolo, Caravaggio and Pictorial Narrative: Dislocating the Istoria in Early Modern Painting, CCA.Reviews
  19. ^ Mancini, Giorgio; Baglione, Giovanni; Bellori, Giovanni; Langdon, Helen (2005). Lives of Caravaggio. London: Pallas Athene. p. 72. ISBN 0-9529986-8-8.
  20. ^ Reyburn, Scott (April 8, 2021). "Possible Caravaggio Is Withdrawn From Auction; Spain Announces Export Ban". The New York Times.
  21. ^ Tondo, Lorenzo; Jones, Sam (April 23, 2021). "'Damn, this is a Caravaggio!': the inside story of an old master found in Spain". The Guardian.
  22. ^ "The rediscovered Caravaggio: here is the truth about the owners of the Ecce Homo". Italy 24 News. April 23, 2021. Archived from the original on April 27, 2021. Retrieved April 24, 2021.
  23. ^ Harris, Garreth (April 26, 2021). "Colnaghi gallery to lead research into €1,500 painting now believed to be by Caravaggio". The Art Newspaper.
  24. ^ Davis-Marks, Isis (April 13, 2021). "Baroque Painting Almost Sold for €1,500 May Be a Caravaggio Worth Millions". Smithsonian.
  25. ^ Parra, Aritz (April 8, 2021). "Spain: Work due for auction from $1,800 may be a Caravaggio". ABC News.