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Crucifixion

Artist
Peter Paul Rubens (Germany, 1577-Belgium, 1640) and workshop
Date
Early 17th century
Size
71 x 42.5 cm (panel); 89 x 62.5 cm (framed)
Technique
Oil on panel
Provenance
  • Bought in Munich from a private collection in 2005

Exhibition history

  • Exhibited at the State Hermitage Museum, Moscow in 2006, as ‘Peter Paul Rubens.’

In this painting of the ‘Crucifixion’, the final moments in the Passion and death of Jesus Christ are depicted. Rather than with arms spread open wide, embracing all sinners, this Crucifixion shows Christ with his arms stretched upwards. This is a reference to the Jansenist reform within Catholicism initiated by Cornelius Jansen in Flanders in the early 17th century which held that salvation was reserved for those souls in the grace of God and not for all sinners. This iconography of the Jansenist Crucifix was adopted by Peter Paul Rubens in his many depictions of the crucified Christ, most notably in the ‘Raising of the Cross’ in Antwerp Cathedral. Jansenist iconography also favoured the use of a nail in each foot for crucifixion images.

This ‘Crucifixion’ is very probably the central section of the predella for the triptych of the ‘Miraculous Draught of Fishes’ at the Church of Our Lady across the River Dijle (Onze-Lieve-Vrow over de Dijle) in Mechelen. The triptych was painted by Peter Paul Rubens in 1618-1619 for a documented commission from the fishermen’s guild. The triptych and predella, which had two other paintings, remained in the church until 1794, when they were seized by the French and sent to Paris. In 1815, the triptych was returned to the church in Mechelen while the other two paintings from the predella went to the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Nancy where they still remain. The central ‘Crucifixion’ from the predella was believed lost. The frame around this ‘Crucifixion’ is very similar to that of the ‘Crucifixion’ in the centre of the predella for Rubens’ triptych of the ‘Adoration of the Magi’ at St John’s Church in Mechelen painted in 1616-1617.

This ‘Crucifixion’ is by Rubens and his workshop. Rubens is the most significant painter of the Flemish Baroque. His style is characterised by theatricality, movement, colour and sensuality. Rubens had a large studio in Antwerp which helped him keep up with increasing commissions from churches, nobility and European courts. From his workshop emerged his autograph works, works which he partly painted, and supervised paintings after his drawings or oil sketches.Within Rubens’ large workshop, it would have been common practice with large commissions such as the ‘Miraculous Draught of Fishes,’ for Rubens to execute the main paintings in the triptych while artists in his workshop would assist him to execute those smaller works in the predella under his direction, such as the ‘Crucifixion’ in this exhibition. The altar framework for the ‘Miraculous Draught of Fishes’ in the Church of Our Lady across the River Dijle has been lost but one can obtain a very good idea of how the triptych with its predella would have originally looked like by observing the altar of the ‘Adoration of the Magi’ in St John’s Church which has a similar triptych and predella. The ‘Crucifixion’ in St John’s Church was made by Rubens’ workshop which further supports the premise that the ‘Crucifixion’ in this exhibition is the work of Rubens and his assistants. The presence of these two similar crucifixions in different commissions for altarpieces in Mechelen shows that, no matter the religious subject of the main painting in such triptychs, the presence of a scene from the Passion of Christ, particularly, the Crucifixion, was commonly requested for the predella as a reminder of Christ’s sacrifice for mankind and therefore an invitation to repentance and prayer.

Sources:
GRITSAY, Natalia I., KOSSOLAPOV, Alexander J., Two Flemish Paintings: Rubens and Jan Breugel the Elder from Collection of Logvinenko in the Hermitage, Publishing House of State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, 2006

JAFFÉ, Michael, MULAZZANI, Germano, Rubens: catalogo completo, Rizzoli, Milan, 1989

LAWRENCE, Cynthia, ‘The iconology of Rubens’s Miraculous draft of fishes triptych’, Simiolus 14 (1984), pp. 24-35 https://rkd.nl/nl/explore/images/23473 https://www.hermitagemuseum.org/wps/portal/hermitage/news/news-item/news/1999_2013/hm11_4_201 http://www.oudheidkundigekring.be/mechelen/node/43

Audio Guide – Maltese

Audio Guide – English

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