Antwerp, World Fair, Exposition internationale coloniale maritime et d'art flamand, section d'art flamand ancien, 1930, no. 54, p. 21 in the catalogue (as Pieter Bruegel the Elder).
This is an important lost work by Baltens, last seen at the 1930 exhibition in Antwerp, when it was thought to be by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. It was known to Stephen J. Kostyshyn only through a photograph kept at the Rubenianum in Antwerp, though a possible sighting of it in the 1960s by Carl van de Velde caused him to add that "this gives us hope that it may still exist somewhere today". We are grateful to Dr. Kostyshyn for confirming the attribution on the basis of a transparency, and for pointing out that the colour scheme lends further support to his dating of it to the 1560s.
Traditionally ascribed to Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Ludwig Burchard was the first to connect it tentatively with Baltens, in an annotation on the Rubenianum photograph, and this attribution was also made by M. Lauryssens in a private communication in 1981. It was Kostyshyn however, who fully recognised Baltens' authorship, and who understood the importance of the present work in Baltens' oeuvre.
The composition was probably inspired, but only in the broadest of outlines, by Pieter Bruegel’s painting of this subject, dated 1564, now in Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum, which Baltens must have known in Antwerp. In both works Christ is placed in the centre of the composition on his knees labouring under the weight of the Cross, and there are some similarities in the figures that immediately surround him. Other similar elements are the ring of figures surrounding the Crucifixion site on a hilltop to the extreme upper right of both works, both artists placed an officer on a white horse between the viewer and Christ, and in both works the procession of figures is brought up at the rear by horsemen in red tunics. There the compositional similarities end and, as Kostyshyn notes, "none can be said to have been copied from him [Bruegel] under any definition of the word'" (op. cit., p. 628). Bruegel placed the mourning group of the Three Maries and Saint John the Baptist in the right foreground while Baltens here groups them at the left, differently arranged. These larger figures are not at all Bruegel-like in style, but rather suggest that Baltens was influenced by Pieter Aertsen's figure style, and Kostyshyn (ibid.) points to a work by Aertsen's pupil Joachim Beuckelaer as one of two possible sources for it other than Bruegel.
Baltens' composition stresses the processional element much more strongly than Bruegel's Vienna painting, and there are many more figures in it. As Kostyshyn points out however (idem, p. 629), both pictures offer a depiction of the subject that was already an established tradition in Flemish art by the 1560s. Though some elements of the composition may be recognised in works by Baltens thought to pre-date it, many more recur in later works. For example Baltens placed a windmill at the left-hand edge of the composition, with a walled town with towers behind it, in his Feast of Saint Martin in Antwerp, Koninklijk Museum voor schone kunsten.
A note on the Provenance
Peter Stevens, a collector from Antwerp, annotated the entry for Baltens in his 1618 edition of Karel van Mander's Het Schilder-Boeck, acquired in 1625, with the names of four paintings by the artist that he knew, including one so described: tot Antwre/ by Adam/ leermkers/ ee cruijsdrag (= tot Antwerpen by Adam Leermakers een Kruisdraginge), implying that he knew of a Christ carrying the Cross in the possession of Adam Leermakers in Antwerp (see Kostyshyn, op. cit., vol. I, p. 423, Doc. 111). There is of course no way of telling if that picture is the present one, but no other such work by Baltens has survived.
The Anversois artist B.P.J. Goemans worked as a flower painter from 1824 to 1830 at the Sèvres porcelain factory, and later assembled a notable collection of paintings.
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