Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Head of Christ

Fernando Yáñez de la Almedina (Spanish, Almedina, ca. 1475?–1536 Valencia)
ca. 1506
Oil on poplar
16 1/2 × 12 in. (41.9 × 30.5 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, The Morris and Alma Schapiro Fund Gift, and Bequest of George D. Pratt, by exchange, 2014
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 609
Fernando Yáñez belonged to the generation of Spanish painters who spent time in Italy and returned with a new vision of painting and the position of the artist as a creative genius rather than mere craftsman. This picture dates shortly after Yáñez returned to Valencia after working with Leonardo da Vinci in Florence. The delicate play of light across the face and the description of the curling hair and beard reflect that experience. So too does the mesmerizing expression and distant gaze of Christ, making this a particularly effective painting for private devotion.
The frame is of the period but not original to the picture.
Fernando Yáñez de la Almedina was a key figure in laying the groundwork for Renaissance painting in Spain. The first certain notice of him is in September 1506, when, together with his contemporary, Fernando Llanos (active 1506–16) he was advanced payment for work on an altarpiece (retablo) dedicated to Saints Cosmas and Damian for the cathedral of Valencia. The two artists collaborated on other projects, including the same cathedral’s main altarpiece (retablo mayor), in 1507–10. In 1515 Yáñez traveled briefly to Barcelona, returned to Valencia by 1516, and in 1518–21 was working in his native Almedina in southeastern Spain. Between 1525 and 1531 he worked in Cuenca, before returning to Almedina, where he is documented from 1532 until 1537. Yáñez clearly spent time in Italy prior to his highly successful career in Spain and he rather than Llanos is usually identified with the "Ferrando Spagnuolo" who in April and August of 1505 collected money for work with Leonardo da Vinci on a mural depicting the battle of Anghiari in the Palazzo della Signoria in Florence ("Ferrando Spagnolo, dipintore, per dipinguere con Lionardo da Vinci nella sala del consiglio florine 5 larghi e a Thomaso di Giovane Merini, su garzone per macinare e colori, florini 1 in oro"; see Benito et al., Los Hernandos, pintores hispanos del entorno de Leonardo, Museo de Bellas Artes de Valencia, 1998, p. 18). Besides Florence, he must also have spent time in northern Italy, where perhaps not coincidentally Leonardo was active prior to his return in Florence in February 1503. This remains highly speculative, however, and is based purely on the stylistic features of Yáñez’s documented work in Spain. The most thorough as well as convincing reconstruction of his early activity in Italy is that of Ibáñez Martínez (1999, pp. 221–40), who rejects earlier conjectures and attributions and considers the Metropolitan’s picture one of two done in Italy by the artist under the influence of Leonardo da Vinci.

The attribution of the Metropolitan’s picture to Yáñez was first proposed by Checa Cremades (1992), who noted that a painting in a private collection in Madrid showing Christ flanked by Saints Peter and John shows the same use of gold dots in the halo and an identical decoration of medallions with Christ’s monogram (IHS) and rinceaux; the beards in both pictures also have the same form. That work is a touchstone of Yáñez’s work at its finest. Since the inscriptions identifying the two apostles are written in Spanish, it was presumably either painted for a Spanish patron resident in Italy or, more likely, in Valencia.

The Metropolitan’s picture, which is painted on poplar, is less well preserved than the above-mentioned picture, especially in the beard. It also shows a greater degree of naturalism in its physiognomic description and intensity in the gaze. In this it is particularly indebted to the example of northern painting and suggests a parallel development to the work of Lorenzo Lotto, who was deeply influenced by Dürer’s two trips to Venice (1494–95 and 1505–7).

Bust-length depictions of Christ—both in painting and sculpture—were relatively common in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Italy and Spain. They relate to reputedly miraculous paintings derived from the image of Christ’s face that was said to have been imprinted on a cloth when a follower, Veronica, wiped his face on the way to Calvary, or a famous image, the Mandylion of Edessa, which was brought to France following the sack of Constantinople in 1204. A fine fourteenth-century depiction of Veronica’s veil, by the Florentine Master of the Orcagnesque Misericordia, is in the Metropolitan Museum (1981.365.2). Christ was also shown bust-length, crowned with thorns: see the Museum’s paintings by Petrus Christus (60.71.1) and Antonello da Messina (32.100.82). In yet another variant he was shown holding an orb as the Salvator Mundi: see the Museum’s painting by Albrecht Dürer (32.100.64). The latter type is especially relevant as Leonardo da Vinci painted just such an image (for which, see Luke Syson in Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan, exh. cat., National Gallery, London, 2011, pp. 281–83). Images such as these were intended for private devotion and the intent gaze of Christ can be seen as an effective device to both address and engage the viewer. The Metropolitan’s picture has been dated to about 1505.

[Keith Christiansen 2014]
[Nando Peretti, London, by 1991–2014; sale, Christie's, New York, January 29, 2014, no. 109, bought in; sold to MMA]
London. Walpole Gallery. "The Cinquecento," June 12–July 26, 1991, no. 1 (as "Salvator Mundi," by Jacopo de' Barbari).

The Cinquecento. Exh. cat., Walpole Gallery. London, 1991, pp. 10–11, no. 1, ill. (color), as by Jacopo de' Barbari.

Fernando Checa Cremades in Reyes y mecenas: los Reyes Católicos, Maximiliano I y los inicios de la Casa de Austria en España. Exh. cat., Museo de Santa Cruz, Toledo. [Milan], 1992, p. 296, under no. 23, ill., as in a private collection, England; suggests an attribution to Yáñez de la Almedina, noting similarities to a painting in a private collection in Madrid showing Christ flanked by Saints Peter and John.

Ximo Company in El Mundo de los Osona, ca. 1460–ca. 1540. Exh. cat., Museo de Bellas Artes de Valencia. Valencia, [1994], p. 195, under no. 25, as by Yáñez.

Aida Padrón Mérida. "Atribuciones poco convincentes. El Mundo de los Osona." Galería antiquaria 128 (May 1995), p. 75 n. 33.

Alfonso E. Pérez Sánchez. Pintura española recuperada por el coleccionismo privado. Exh. cat., Hospital de los Venerables. Seville, 1996, p. 68, ill. p. 66, under no. 17, as by Yáñez.

Fernando Benito et al. in Los Hernandos, pintores hispanos del entorno de Leonardo. Exh. cat., Museo de Bellas Artes de Valencia. Valencia, 1998, pp. 164–65, fig. 25.2 (color, cropped), under no. 25, as attributed to Jacopo de' Barbari.

Fernando Benito Domenech in Ferrando Spagnuolo e altri maestri iberici nell'Italia di Leonardo e Michelangelo. Exh. cat., Casa Buonarroti, Florence. [Valencia], 1998, pp. 99, 246, fig. 8.2 (color, cropped), under no. 8.

Pedro Miguel Ibáñez Martínez. Fernando Yáñez de Almedina (la incógnita Yáñez). Cuenca, Spain, 1999, pp. 229, 237–40, 320, no. 5.2.3, fig. 100, considers it one of two works painted by Yáñez in Italy under the influence of Leonardo.

José Gómez Frechina. Los Hernandos: pintores 1505–1525/ c. 1475–1536. Madrid, 2011, p. 36, fig. 12 (color, cropped).

Renaissance. Christie's, New York. January 29, 2014, pp. 28–31, no. 109, ill. (color, overall and detail), as by Jacopo de' Barbari.

The frame is from central Spain and dates to about 1580–90 (see Additional Images, figs. 1–2). The delicate cassetta molding is made of pine and retains its original mitred face lap joints. The profile progresses from the sight edge outward in a series of ogee, steps, ovolo, and hollows with a frieze within. The surface, also original, is mordant gilded on the moldings and painted black on the frieze and top edge over a thin ground. The Latin text in gold: “Formosissima Es Maria, Ave Salutis Mater, Puerpera Pulcherrima Salve, Tu Mihi Sola Places” is a salutation to the Virgin Mary. Undoubtedly this frame was conceived for a portrait of her. Heraldic shields in the lower corners painted over the gilt decoration suggest specific family ownership in the past. The frame is from the collection and was put on the painting in 2014.

[Timothy Newbery with Cynthia Moyer 2017; further information on this frame can be found in the Department of European Paintings files]
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