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Christ Crowned with Thorns

Antonello da Messina (Antonello di Giovanni d'Antonio) (Italian, Messina ca. 1430–1479 Messina)

Medium:
Oil, perhaps over tempera, on wood
Dimensions:
16 3/4 x 12 in. (42.5 x 30.5 cm)
Classification:
Paintings
Credit Line:
The Friedsam Collection, Bequest of Michael Friedsam, 1931
Accession Number:
32.100.82
  • Gallery Label

    An artist of astonishing originality, Antonello combined a Netherlandish mastery of description with an Italian emphasis on formal presentation and expression. This painting may date as early as 1470. To increase its function as an aide to meditation, Christ is shown behind a parapet—a convention Antonello appropriated from portraiture. The device enhances the effect of Christ’s physical presence and suffering: "a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief" (Isaiah 53:3).

  • Catalogue Entry

    In addition to an innovative series of portraits (see MMA 14.40.645), Antonello has left a no less inventive series of bust-length images of Christ as the Man of Sorrows. That in the Metropolitan has always been seen as a keystone. It comes from the collection of Don Giulio Alliata (or Agliata) of Palermo, where it is first described in 1653; the signature and date on the cartellino affixed to the parapet were then read as "Antonellus de Messina me fecit 1470". Subsequently the picture belonged to Count Duke Olivares. In 1858 the picture was seen and sketched in Naples by the great Italian connoisseur Giovanni Battista Cavacaselle. He recorded the much effaced inscription as "147. / Antonellus Messanus / me [pinxit]". This would make the MMA Christ the earliest dated image of this type, though Previtali (1980) and Sricchia Santoro (1986) believe a painting of the same subject in Genoa may be slightly earlier. The evolution of this novel type of devotional image has now come into clearer focus. Antonello experimented with it in at least two earlier paintings, both double-sided (in one the front side shows the Madonna and Child with a Franciscan; in the other Saint Jerome is shown in the wilderness). The first is an attributed work that possibly dates to the 1460s (Museo Nazionale, Messina). A figure of Christ, crowned with thorns with a rope around his neck, is seen through a frame of Gothic tracery. The other, in a private collection, New York, shows the figure of Christ chest-length, against a black background and behind a parapet, again crowned with thorns and with a rope around his neck—a reference to his being led off to Calvary. The format of the MMA portrait, in which the figure—crowned with thorns but without a rope around his neck—is shown bust-length, his body angled but looking out, full-face, may be viewed as the culmination of this rethinking of devotional images of Christ (Thiébaut 1993). This type of image is deeply indebted to Netherlandish painting, with which Antonello had been intimately acquainted during his stay in Naples. Jan van Eyck had painted a much copied Holy Face (see the example by Petrus Christus in the Metropolitan, in which the figure is shown behind a window opening: 60.71.1). The parapet was a common device used in Netherlandish portraits to create both a border and a link between the physical world of the viewer and the fictive world of the sitter. It was Antonello’s achievement to invest the image of Christ with a portrait-like proximity and tangible presence. And just as in his portraits he introduced a smile to animate the face, so in these devotional images he emphasized the expressive content: Christ as "a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief" (Isaiah 53:3). He also experimented with related images, in one of which Christ is shown behind a parapet extending his hand in blessing (National Gallery, London), and in the other of which Christ is bound to a column, looking upwards (Musée du Louvre, Paris). The effect of these images was to place the viewer in a more immediate and affecting relationship with the object of his or her devotion by isolating the figure, portrait-like, from a narrative context.

    The MMA painting is badly abraded and the panel has been thinned.

    [2012]

  • Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings

    Inscription: Signed (lower center): Antonellus messane / [us] / me pin[x]it

  • Provenance

    Don Giulio Alliata (or Agliata), Palermo (in 1653); Don Gaspar de Haro y Guzmán, Marquis of Carpio, Count Duke of Olivares, Rome and Naples (until d. 1687; inv., 1687, no. 770); Ferdinando Maria Spinelli, principe di Tarsia, Naples (until d. 1780); duca di Gresso; conte Giacomo Lazzari, Naples (until 1843; posthumous inv., 1843, no. 61); Don Dionisio Lazzari, Naples (in about 1858); Gaetano Zir, Naples (by 1861–at least 1874; cat., 1874, no. 110); his widow, Signora Eleonora Torazzini, Naples (in about 1877); [Haro, Paris]; baron Arthur de Schickler, Paris and Martinvast (by 1908–at least 1916); his daughter, comtesse Hubert de Pourtalès, Martinvast (until 1920; sold to Duveen); [Duveen, Paris and London, 1920–27; sold to Wendland]; [Dr. Hans Wendland, Lugano, 1927]; [Kleinberger, Paris and New York, 1927]; Michael Friedsam, New York (1927–d. 1931)

  • Exhibition History

    Naples. location unknown. "Esposizione nazionale di belle arti in Napoli," April 8–?, 1877, no. 10 (lent by the Zir heirs).

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Michael Friedsam Collection," November 15, 1932–April 9, 1933, no catalogue.

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Venetian Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum," May 1–September 2, 1974, no catalogue.

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Antonello da Messina: Sicily's Renaissance Master," December 13, 2005–March 5, 2006, no. 4.

    Rome. Scuderie del Quirinale. "Antonello da Messina: l'opera completa," March 18–June 25, 2006, no. 16 (as "Ecce Homo").

  • References

    Vincenzo Auria. Notitia della vita ed opere d'Antonio Gagino scultore . . . Palermo, 1653, p. 17 [see Ref. Crowe and Cavalcaselle 1871], mentions an Ecce Homo in the collection of Giulio Agliata, Palermo, and reads the inscription as "Antonellus de Messina me fecit 1470".

    Vincenzo Auria. Il Gagino redivivo. Palermo, 1698, p. 17 [see Ref. Zeri and Gardner 1973], describes the Ecce Homo in the collection of Don Giulio Alliata in Palermo and reads the inscription on the cartellino as "ANTONELLUS DE MESSINA ME FECIT 1470".

    Memorie de' pittori messinesi degli esteri che in Messina fiorirono dal secolo XII sino al secolo XIX. Messina, 1821, p. 16, mentions the picture noted by Auria [see Ref. 1698].

    Giovanni Battista Cavalcaselle. Manuscript. [ca. 1858] [Biblioteca Marciana, Venice], as in the collection of Don Dionisio Lazzari, Naples; notes that it was earlier in the collections of the principe di Tarsia and the duca di Grasso; reads the inscription on the cartellino as "147. / Antonellus Messanus / me"; comments on Antonello's technique, noting that with the "fused, enameled color, you do not see traces of brush" and that the artist employs a "system of velature [a technique in which oil paint is superimposed over a preparation in tempera]—in full use, I believe, for the last time".

    Charles Lock Eastlake. Letter to Ralph Nicholson Wornum. September 20, 1861, having just seen the picture in Naples, calls the subject "repulsively treated and the head ill drawn" and wonders if the inscription was forged; does not doubt the picture is by Antonello.

    Joseph Archer Crowe and Giovanni Battista Cavalcaselle. Les anciens peintres flamands. 1, Brussels, 1862, p. 227, mention the Alliata picture among the lost works of Antonello.

    Alfred Michiels. Histoire de la peinture flamande depuis ses débuts jusqu'en 1864. 2, 2nd ed. Paris, 1866, p. 398, as formerly at Palermo with the Alliata family, "presently" known as the princes of Villafranca.

    J[oseph]. A[rcher]. Crowe and G[iovanni]. B[attista]. Cavalcaselle. A History of Painting in North Italy: Venice, Padua, Vicenza, Verona, Ferrara, Milan, Friuli, Brescia, from the Fourteenth to the Sixteenth Century. London, 1871, vol. 2, p. 85, identify our picture, then in the Zir collection, with the one described by Auria [Ref. 1698] and read the inscription on the cartellino as "1.7.ntonellus messa . . ."; note that "few extant panels have been injured by time and restored more completely than this: but we can still see an early form of the master's art".

    Giovanni Morelli. Italian Masters in German Galleries. London, 1883, p. 382.

    Ivan Lermolieff [Giovanni Morelli]. "Die Galerien zu München und Dresden." Kunstkritische Studien über italienische Malerei. 2, Leipzig, 1891, pp. 245–46, dates it in the artist's early Flemish period, 1465–70.

    Gioacchino di Marzo. La pittura in Palermo nel Rinascimento: storia e documenti. Palermo, 1899, p. 197, identifies our picture, then lost, with the one described by Auria [Ref. 1898].

    Gioacchino di Marzo. Di Antonello da Messina e dei suoi congiunti. Palermo, 1903, pp. 41–42, mistrusts Auria's reading of the inscription.

    Gioacchino di Marzo. "Di Antonello d'Antonio da Messina: i primi documenti messinese." Archivio storico messinese 3 (1903), pp. 176–77 [see Ref. Zeri and Gardner 1973], quotes the description given by Auria in 1898.

    Gaetano La Corte Cailler. "Antonello da Messina: studi e ricerchi con documenti inediti." Archivio storico messinese 4 (1903), pp. 362 ff. [see Ref. Zeri and Gardner 1973], discusses the origin of the picture.

    Agostino D'Amico. "Antonello da Messina, le sue opere e l'invenzione della pittura ad olio." Archivio storico messinese 5 (1904), pp. 95, 125–26, mentions this painting as said to be in the Zir collection, Naples.

    Lionello Venturi in Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler. 1, Leipzig, 1907, p. 569.

    Lionello Venturi. Le origini della pittura veneziana, 1300–1500. Venice, 1907, p. 224, refers to our picture as lost, and places it in Antonello's first period.

    Lionello Venturi. "Studii Antonelliani." L'arte 11 (1908), pp. 443–44, ill. (the painting and Calvalcaselle's drawing after it [fig. 1]), identifies a picture then in the Schickler collection with the Ecce Homo from which Cavalcaselle made a sketch ca. 1858 when it was in the Lazzari collection; is only able to read "Antonellus messanen" on the cartellino, but considers this picture the earliest of Antonello's Ecce Homos.

    J[oseph]. A[rcher]. Crowe and G[iovanni]. B[attista]. Cavalcaselle. A History of Painting in North Italy: Venice, Padua, Vicenza, Verona, Ferrara, Milan, Friuli, Brescia, from the Fourteenth to the Sixteenth Century. 2nd ed. [1st ed. 1871]. London, 1912, vol. 2, pp. 418–19 n. 1.

    Adolfo Venturi. "La pittura del Quattrocento." Storia dell'arte italiana. 7, part 4, Milan, 1915, pp. 54–56, fig. 30, identifies our picture with the one described by Auria but finds its style inconsistent with a date of 1470.

    Bernard Berenson. Venetian Painting in America: The Fifteenth Century. New York, 1916, p. 33, as in Baron Schickler's collection.

    Bernard Berenson. Letter to Mr. Kleinberger. May 2, 1925, admires the picture, noting that although it is not "attractive" it has "a tremendous existence and overwhelming persuasiveness"; describes it as signed and dated.

    Ella S. Siple. "Recent Acquisitions by American Collectors." Burlington Magazine 51 (December 1927), p. 298, pl. IIA, as in the Friedsam collection; calls it one of "the later and more Italianized versions" of this subject by Antonello.

    Wilhelm von Bode. Mein Leben. Berlin, 1930, vol. 1, p. 80, mentions seeing this painting in 1872 or 1873 in the Zir collection in Naples, and later in the Schickler collection, Paris.

    Lionello Venturi. Pitture italiane in America. Milan, 1931, unpaginated, pl. 282, notes that in the seventeenth century the date 1470 was still visible.

    Bernhard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance. Oxford, 1932, p. 25.

    Bryson Burroughs and Harry B. Wehle. "The Michael Friedsam Collection: Paintings." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 27, section 2 (November 1932), p. 34, no. 56.

    Johann Lauts. "Antonello da Messina." Jahrbuch der kunsthistorischen Sammlungen in Wien, n.s., 7 (1933), pp. 33, 68–69, ill., identifies it with the picture mentioned by Auria and considers it Antonello's earliest extant version of the theme.

    Lionello Venturi. "Fifteenth Century Renaissance." Italian Paintings in America. 2, New York, 1933, unpaginated, pl. 377.

    Helen Comstock. "The Connoisseur in America: Van Marle's Attributions to Antonello da Messina." The Connoisseur 94 (December 1934), p. 394.

    Raimond van Marle. "The Renaissance Painters of Central and Southern Italy." The Development of the Italian Schools of Painting. 15, The Hague, 1934, pp. 476, 496–97, ill., refers to it as a work of 1470, but notes that we cannot put entire confidence in the date recorded by Auria [see Refs. 1653 and 1698].

    "Detroit Gets Masterful Antonello Study." Art Digest (September 1, 1935), p. 20.

    W. R. Valentiner. "Christ at the Column by Antonello da Messina." Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts 14 (January 1935), pp. 43–44.

    Bernhard Berenson. Pitture italiane del rinascimento. Milan, 1936, p. 21.

    Stefano Bottari. "Il primo Antonello." Critica d'arte 2 (1937), p. 106.

    Stefano Bottari. Antonello da Messina. Milan, [1939], pp. 132–33, 144, pl. 24.

    Jan Lauts. Antonello da Messina. Vienna, 1940, pp. 15, 35, no. 15, pl. 15, accepts the 1470 date.

    Harry B. Wehle. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Italian, Spanish, and Byzantine Paintings. New York, 1940, pp. 175–76, ill., provides bibliography and provenance; mentions Antonello's other versions of the subject.

    Giorgio Vigni. "Tre dipinti di Antonello da Messina." Bollettino d'arte, 4th ser., 37 (1952), p. 303, as formerly bearing a date of 1470.

    Giorgio Vigni. Tutta la pittura di Antonello da Messina. Milan, 1952, pp. 11, 22, pl. 18.

    Stefano Bottari. Antonello. Milan, 1953, pp. 22, 89–90, pl. 60 [see Ref. Zeri and Gardner 1973].

    Roberto Longhi. "Frammento siciliano." Paragone 4, no. 47 (November 1953), p. 28.

    Stefano Bottari. Antonello da Messina. Greenwich, Conn., 1955, pp. 13, 16.

    Bernard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Venetian School. London, 1957, vol. 1, p. 6, pl. 275.

    Giorgio Vigni. All the Paintings of Antonello da Messina. New York, 1963, p. 24, pl. 14.

    Raffaello Causa. Antonello da Messina. Milan, 1964, unpaginated.

    Gabriele Mandel. L'opera completa di Antonello da Messina. Milan, 1967, p. 91, no. 31, colorpl. 12, notes that there is no consensus as to the reading of the signature on the picture and suggests that Auria's reference may in fact refer to the Ecce Homo in Piacenza.

    Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972, pp. 10, 356, 607.

    Elizabeth E. Gardner. "Dipinti rinascimentali del Metropolitan Museum nelle carte di G. B. Cavalcaselle." Saggi e memorie di storia dell'arte 8 (1972), pp. 69–71, figs. 1–5, identifies the brand on the reverse as the mark of the collection of the Marquis of Carpio and publishes the reference to it in the Carpio inventory of 1687; identifies other owners and notes that it was exhibited in Naples in 1877.

    Lino Moretti. G. B. Cavalcaselle: disegni da antichi maestri. Exh. cat., Fondazione Giorgio Cini, Venice. [Vicenza], 1973, pp. 81–82, under no. 47, reproduces Cavalcaselle's drawing and notes; gives the date that Cavalcaselle saw this painting in Naples as 1860, and states that at that time it belonged to the heirs of Gaetano Zir [sic, for Giacomo Lazzari?] who were offering it for sale for 800 ducati.

    Federico Zeri with the assistance of Elizabeth E. Gardner. Italian Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Venetian School. New York, 1973, p. 2, pl. 2, call this picture almost certainly the Ecce Homo that was in the collection of Giulio Alliata of Palermo in the seventeenth century, when the date 1470 (now almost illegible) was said to be visible on the cartellino; note that this would make the MMA picture the earliest of the four known versions of this subject by Antonello [see Notes; the version in a private collection was not yet attributed to Antonello].

    Maria Paolini. "Antonello da Messina." Connoisseur 190 (October 1975), p. 129, believes that our picture is probably the work mentioned by Auria.

    Anthony W. Robins. "The Paintings of Antonello da Messina." Connoisseur 188 (March 1975), p. 189, dates it "probably no later than 1473" and comments that it displays "Antonello's new interest in Italian modelling".

    Maria Grazia Paolini. "Antonello e la sua scuola." Storia della Sicilia. 5, Naples, 1979, pp. 23, 58 n. 88, discusses the inscription.

    Howard Hibbard. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1980, pp. 241, 245, fig. 431.

    Maria Paolini. "Problemi antonelliani–i rapporti con pittura fiamminga." Storia dell'arte no. 38 (1980), pp. 4–5, grapples with the evolution of Antonello's technique and concludes that the use of velature (a technique of oil over tempera) [see also Ref. Cavalcaselle 1858] did not suddenly appear in 1470 with the creation of this picture, but was evident in Antonello's work beginning about 1465
    .

    Giovanni Previtali. "Da Antonello da Messina a Jacopo di Antonello: 1. La data del 'Cristo benedicente' della National Gallery di Londra." Prospettiva no. 20 (January 1980), p. 34 n. 12, dates the MMA and Piacenza versions after the one in Genoa; relates the series to Antonello's Saint Sebastian (Gemäldegalerie, Dresden).

    Maria Teresa Bonaccorso in Antonello da Messina. Exh. cat., Museo Regionale, Messina. Rome, 1981, pp. 130–32, no. 24, ill. (overall and infrared detail), discusses the provenance.

    Salvatore Tramontana. Antonello e la sua città. Palermo, 1981, pp. 77, 95 n. 93, p. 99.

    Liana Castelfranchi Vegas. Italia e Fiandra nella pittura del quattrocento. Milan, 1983, pp. 87–88, states that it was inspired by Flemish examples like that of the Petrus Christus "Head of Christ" (MMA 60.71.1); adds that the series displays a perfect fusion between Flemish and Italian art.

    Fiorella Sricchia Santoro. Antonello e l'Europa. Milan, 1986, pp. 100–101, 158, no. 14, comments that the novel iconography of Antonello's Ecce Homo panels and of his portraits suggest a consistent base of foreign patrons; compares the three extant versions of the Ecce Homo by Antonello and suggests that the version in Genoa [Palazzo Spinola], signed but not dated, was executed slightly before the present picture, which shows a greater awareness of the plastic possibilities of light.

    David Alan Brown. Andrea Solario. Milan, 1987, p. 65 n. 110.

    Liana Castelfranchi. "Il problema delle fonti fiamminghe di Antonello." Antonello da Messina. Messina, 1987, p. 37, suggests that Antonello's composition derives from Petrus Christus's painting of Christ in Majesty (location unknown), which was for a time in the Sannazzaro collection in Naples.

    Ellen Markgraf Bochum University. Antonello da Messina und die Niederlande. Frankfurt am Main, 1990, pp. 26, 124, 135, 137–39, 181–82, 198, 202, fig. 72, considers it Antonello's earliest version of the composition and also sees it as one of his earliest portraits; comments that the questioning, helpless expression of Christ in our version is unique among Antonello's variants.

    Keith Christiansen in Andrea Mantegna. Exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts, London. New York, 1992, p. 245.

    Luciana Arbace. Antonello da Messina: catalogo completo dei dipinti. Florence, 1993, pp. 11, 44–45, no. 14, ill. (color).

    Dominique Thiébaut. Le Christ à la colonne d'Antonello de Messine. Exh. cat., Musée du Louvre. Paris, 1993, pp. 44, 78–80, 82, fig. 66, sees the poor state of preservation of many of Antonello's paintings—which cannot be explained as simply a result of excessive cleaning—as evidence that his technique was not altogether comparable to that of the Flemish painters; notes that Christ's head is less distorted and his gaze more fixed than in the other extant versions and comments that the variation in facial expression contributes to their portrait-like effect; points out that the sides of our panel have been cut down.

    Maryan W. Ainsworth. Petrus Christus: Renaissance Master of Bruges. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1994, p. 65 n. 79.

    Joanne Wright in The Dictionary of Art. 2, New York, 1996, p. 179, believes that Antonello's Ecce Homo variants can be seen as a development of the Netherlandish Christ Blessing prototype.

    Gioacchino Barbera. Antonello da Messina. Milan, 1998, pp. 23, 44, 46 ill. (color), notes that at the end of the 1460s Antonello must have travelled to Northern Italy, where he came in contact with the school of Squarcione; calls the cartellino on our painting Squarcionesque, although he finds our panel otherwise closer to Flemish taste than the other versions.

    Chiara Savettieri. Antonello da Messina. Palermo, 1998, pp. 12, 45 n. 82, 50, 75, 81–82, no. 10, ill., believes the placement of Christ's features is part of a "very calculated dynamic geometry," for which he provides a diagram.

    Ecce Homo, Antonello da Messina; Genova e Messina: due versioni a confronto. Exh. cat., Galleria Nazionale di Palazzo Spinola. Genoa, 2000, pp. 11–12, 15, 21–22, 34, 36, 44–46, 74–75, ill. (color), view this work as irrefutable evidence that Antonello was exposed to Piero della Francesca's experiments with perspective; find the Christ in our picture possesses a greater monumentality than in the other extant versions.

    Giuseppe Consoli Guardo. Antonello fuori dai luoghi comuni. Milan, 2001, pp. 104, 111, ill.

    Fiorella Sricchia Santoro in Antonello a Napoli. Exh. cat., Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte. Naples, 2001, p. 12.

    Antonello da Messina: Ecce Homo. Exh. cat., Museo Diocesano. Milan, 2002, pp. 28, 30, ill.

    Fiorella Sricchia Santoro in Antonello agli Uffizi: un acquisto dello Stato per il riscatto dell'eredità Bardini. Exh. cat., Sala delle Reali Poste. Florence, 2002, p. 52.

    Gioacchino Barbera in Antonello da Messina: Sicily's Renaissance Master. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2005, pp. 22–23, 26, calls it "Antonello's first independent version of the 'Ecce Homo'" and dates it about 1470; notes the influence of Netherlandish painting on Antonello's art of this period.

    Andrea Bayer in Antonello da Messina: Sicily's Renaissance Master. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2005, pp. 37, 42–43, no. 4, ill. (color), finds a date of 1470 plausible; calls a version in a private collection (cat. no. 2) Antonello's earliest treatment of the subject.

    Mauro Lucco in Antonello da Messina: l'opera completa. Exh. cat., Scuderie del Quirinale, Rome. Cinisello Balsamo (Milan), 2006, pp. 140, 154, 156, 166–69, 240, no. 16, ill. (color, overall and detail).

    Karen Wilkin. "Antonello da Messina at the Met." New Criterion 24 (February 2006), pp. 48–49.

    Maria Clelia Galassi. "Aspects of Antonello da Messina's Technique and Working Method in the 1470s: Between Italian and Flemish Tradition." Cultural Exchange Between the Low Countries and Italy (1400–1600). Turnhout, Belgium, 2007, pp. 68–69, 76–77, 79–80, 83 n. 54, p. 84 nn. 76, 80, figs. 1, 2 (infrared digital photographs, overall and detail), 20 (x-radiograph), states that the fluid medium used by Antonello for underdrawing in this picture is not detected by infrared reflectography, but is revealed through infrared digital photography, adding that this discovery indicates that assumptions about the lack of underdrawing on Antonello's panels may sometimes be untrue; notes that the flat lead white underpaint revealed by x-radiography is typical of earlier works by Antonello and for this reason tentatively dates the Genoa version of the composition, with a more modulated layer of underpaint, several years after the MMA work; hypothesizes that Antonello used a template for the series of Ecce Homo pictures, a practice also followed by Memling, and sees close similarities between Antonello's and Petrus Christus's underdrawing, but does not believe either of these things proves contact between Antonello and the two Netherlandish painters.



  • See also
435580

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