The impressive, almost life-size devotional "Christ in Distress" by Adrian de Frieseloquently expresses a crucial passage in the story of Christ’s Passion in which the Son of God has sacrificed himself to redeem mankind. This is identified by a Biblical quotation from Paul’s first Epistle to the Corinthians: “EMPTI ESTIS PRETIO MAGNO” (For you are bought dearly). There is no scriptural source for the subject depicted.

Christ, sitting on a rock, folding his hands and asking for mercy, seems to be waiting for Pilate’s men. The suffering to come shows clearly in his face. This sculpture derives its expressive force from the contrast between Christ’s suffering features and the classical beauty of his athletic body. The pose with crossed legs goes back to a famous woodcut of the Man of Sorrows by Albrecht Dürer. This choice of model is no coincidence, as Dürer’s art was greatly admired again at the imperial court around 1600. But the shape of the sculpture reveals the sculptor’s experience of Hellenistic work like the Belvedere Torso and the work of Michelangelo, which he had studied in Florence and Rome. Contemporaries took the Torso to represent Hercules. As the ancient hero was also interpreted as a prefiguration of Christ, it seemed entirely logical to adopt some formal criteria of his sculptural type when creating a figure of Christ. Rubens presented the Roman consul Decius Mus as a Christian martyr, and here we see this fertile relationship between religious and secular iconography working in the opposite direction. The thrusting scale of the seated, ultimately highly complicated, pose for the figure of Christ is typical of de Fries, and results from carefully balanced opposing twists of the body.
De Fries does not try to make the flesh look natural in his three-dimensional modelling of the body: the arched surface of the athletic chest goes well beyond the natural anatomy of muscles and sinews, forming an almost abstract structure. De Fries exploits the natural qualities of bronze as a material and shows them to their best advantage.
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Adriaen de Fries
Christ in Distress, 1607
Bronze with brown natural patina
height 149 cm
Signed and dated on the back of the plinth: ADRIANUS FRIES HAGENSIS / FECIT 1607
Inv.-No. SK515
Provenance: 1607 commissioned by Prince Karl I von Liechtenstein, after 1671 with St Sebastian (SK 562), probably placed in the Valtice parish church, since 1807 in the Liechtenstein Garden Palace in Rossau
Further works on display
St Sebastian, 1613/1615
Bacchus finds Ariadne on Naxos, 1611
Related themes
Bronzes from the Collections of the Prince von und zu Liechtenstein
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