Crucifix of Santo Spirito by Michelangelo represents a gift as a sign of thanks to the prior of the Convent of Santo Spirito. Christ with a naked body is placed on the cross. Christ is depicted with an expression of suffering, his eyes closed and his head tilted to the left of the observer. The body is abandoned on the cross, the knees are bent, together and pointing slightly to the right. Christ presents a frail and defenseless body that conveys a sense of fragility. Even his nakedness exposed on the cross evokes the drama of death and loneliness. In 1999 two doctors compared the sculpted figure to the body of a teenager of about 14 years old who had died a few hours earlier. This marked realism has convinced art historians that Michelangelo is the author of the sculpture. In fact, it was at the convent that the young artist had the opportunity to study anatomy on the corpses of dead people awaiting burial. The Santo Spirito Crucifix dates back to around 1493. Art historians agree in attributing the sculpture to Michelangelo. In 1492, Lorenzo the Magnificent, Michelangelo’s protector who had hosted him during his training period at the family palace in Via Larga in Florence, died. At the age of 17, the young artist took refuge in the convent of Santo Spirito. Piero de’ Medici continued to support Michelangelo together with the prior of the convent.
The artist thus managed to continue his anatomical studies by studying the corpses that came from the convent hospital. This anatomical investigation activity therefore allowed Michelangelo to become one of the most skilled artists in representing the human body in movement. To thank the prior Niccolò di Lapo Bichiellini, Michelangelo sculpted a wooden crucifix which was placed on the main altar. Alberini left a testimony of this presence in 1510. Following the occupation of Napoleon’s army, at the end of the eighteenth century, the convent was closed and traces of the Crucifix were lost. Historians knew of the existence of Michelangelo’s crucifix thanks to the writings of the artist Giorgio Vasari. The scholar Margrit Lisner thus continued researching the work encouraged by the Augustinian father Guido Balestri. The discovery dates back to the early 1960s and was subsequently restored and exhibited at Casa Buonarroti. In 1964 a cataloging of the Crucifixes of Tuscany was carried out and the archivists rediscovered Michelangelo’s work which was covered with a thick layer of paint which altered its forms.
The anatomical modeling is soft. Furthermore, Michelangelo sculpted physical and seemingly insignificant details such as pubic hair and the softness of hair. The Christ reproduced in the crucifix is an intimate interpretation and does not present the heroism of some of Michelangelo’s characters. However, historians point out some similarities with other sculptures. The inclination and shape of Jesus’ head is very similar to that of the Vatican Madonna della Pietà. Furthermore, Michelangelo used the formal twisting of the body in many subsequent works.