With Galerie de Heuvel, Brussels;
Acquired from or through the agency of the above by Baron Coppée 15 October 1930;
Thence by descent.
Brussels, Exposition universelle internationale, Cinq siècles d'arts, I: Peintures arts anciens bruxellois et sections étrangers, 24 May – 13 October 1935, no. 181;
Brussels, Galerie Robert Finck, Trente-trois tableaux de Pierre Brueghel le Jeune dans les collections privées belges, 1969, no. 7;
Brussels, Palais des Beaux Arts, Bruegel. Une dynastie de Peintres, 18 September – 18 November 1980, no. 92;
Tokyo, Tobu Museum of Art, The World of Bruegel. The Coppée Collection and Eleven International Museums, 29 March – 25 June 1995, no. B24.
G. Glück, Das Große Bruegel Werk, Vienna and Munich 1963, p. 115;
G. Marlier, Pierre Brueghel le Jeune, Brussels 1969, pp. 288–290, no. 1, reproduced fig. 167;
P. Roberts-Jones, in the catalogue of the exhibition, Bruegel. Une dynastie de Peintres, Brussels, Palais des Beaux Arts, 1980, pp. 154, no. 92;
U. Härting, Frans Francken der Jüngere, Die Gemälde mit kritischem Oeuvrekatalog, Freren 1989, p. 197, n. 194;
P. Sutton, Northern European paintings in the Phildelphia Museum of Art from the 16th through the 19th century, Philadelphia 1990, p. 46, under no. 15, version no. 1, reproduced fig. 15-1;
U. Härting, 'Fragen an eine 'Kreuzerrichtung' mit dem heiligen Bavo?', in Niederländische Beiträge zur Kunstgesichte, vol. 30, Munich 1991, p. 106;
S. Leclercq et al., La Collection Coppée, Liège 1991, pp. 42–45, reproduced;
M. Wilmotte, in the catalogue of the exhibition The World of Bruegel. The Coppée Collection and Eleven International Museums, Tokyo 1995, pp. 98–99, no. B24, reproduced;
K. Ertz, in the catalogue of the exhibition, Brueghel–Brueghel, Essen, Villa Hügel, and Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Lingen 1997, pp 100–101, reproduced fig. 1;
K. Ertz, in the catalogue of the exhibition, Brueghel–Brueghel, Essen, Villa Hügel, Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum and Antwerp, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Lingen 1998, pp. 63–66, reproduced fig. 13a;
K. Ertz, Pieter Brueghel der Jüngere 1564–1637/1638. Die Gemälde mit kritischem Oeuvrekatalog, Lingen 1998–2000, vol. I, pp. 417, 420, 423, 426, 431, 435, 457, cat. no. E414, reproduced fig. 292;
C. Currie and D. Allart, The Brueg[H]el Phenomenon, Brussels 2012, vol. II, pp. 615–44, vol. III, pp. 738, 788, 805, 809, 930–31, 1010, 1017–19, reproduced figs 418, 422–33, 435, 442, 548, 667, 491, 495, 498, 500, 502–10, 513, 603, 649, 652, 672.
In this huge and imposing landscape Pieter Brueghel sets out the scene of Christ’s crucifixion as narrated by the Gospels. The events unfurl on a bumpy plateau, overlooked on the right by a vertiginous series of rocky and forested cliffs, and further back on the left by a cliff top stronghold, while beyond them in the centre can be seen the city of Jerusalem, distinguished by the circular form of the Holy Sepulchre. The scene is viewed from above, the scale of the protagonists deliberately left small to accent their insignificance in the face of nature and the events taking place. Christ and one of the two thieves are already in place upon their crosses, while the soldiers struggle to hoist the third and last cross into place. Behind them in the middle distance a fourth cross still carries the remains of its earlier victim. Behind the right hand cross, almost indistinguishable by their tiny scale, the figures of Mary and her companions can be seen fallen to the ground in their grief. With the exception of a small group of soldiers, who can be seen in the left foreground squabbling and playing dice over Christ’s clothes, all the protagonists have their attention turned away from the spectator and focused upon the figure of Christ. Among them, a curious cowled figure raises the tablets of the law to the crucified thief above. The soldiers below raise a lance towards Christ, upon which sits a sponge soaked in vinegar, meant to torment the thirst of its victim. All are seemingly oblivious to the great darkening pall which is spreading across the sky from behind the cliffs and towards Calvary and Jerusalem. In the very centre of the picture, the figure of the crucified Christ stands out, pale and isolated against the coming darkness.
In his catalogue of the works of Pieter Brueghel the Younger, Klaus Ertz lists only twenty-one known paintings which reflect Brueghel’s different treatments of the theme of the Crucifixion.1 Of these he considers only eight to be autograph works, and of this group only two are signed and dated: the present painting and that now in the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest, which is signed and dated 1617 (fig. 3).2 The latter, however, differs significantly in its format and landscape setting, and in fact only four other works follow the composition of the Coppée version. These are the panel in the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts in Antwerp, that last recorded in the collection of Karl Landegger in New York in 1961, another in the church of Saint-Nicolas-du-Chardonnet in Paris,3 and a fourth, which Ertz accords doubtfully autograph status but which Marlier lists as signed, last recorded at the dispersal of the collection of Countess Gatterburg in Hanover in 1949.4 The panels are of very similar size: that in Antwerp, at 102 x 149 cm., is slightly larger than the Coppée and Hanover panels (100 x 147 cm.), while that in Paris is much the smallest (90 x 130 cm.). Three other related panels, all seemingly the work of the Brueghel workshop or its following, follow the general disposition of the Coppée original, but abandon the hilltop castle to the left of the composition, replace the towering crags to the right with a lesser and more densely forested bluff, and change completely the distant vista of Jerusalem that we see here. These were those formerly in the Van Gysel collection in Brussels, and that of Dr. R. Piloty in Wurzburg, while the third was sold London, Christie’s, 5 July 1996, lot 17.5 Lastly, another panel in s’-Hertogenbosch, Noordbrabants Museum (fig. 2), also follows the Coppée prototype in the disposition of the figures, and here the landscape includes a view of Jerusalem, but set within an earlier type of ‘World landscape' in the tradition of painters such as Joachim Patinir or Lucas Gassel.6 A final group is also known, although unrelated to the present type, in which the principal figure groups are reversed and placed in a landscape before a large castle. The composition may well have been arranged by the younger Brueghel, and Ertz hesitantly suggests a panel formerly in the Lubbert collection as a possible prototype. It was certainly known to Frans Francken the Younger, whose own interpretation survives today in the Niedersächsiche Landesgalerie in Hanover.7
Although the majority of Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s works are derived from those of his father Pieter Bruegel the Elder, in this instance no example of any older prototype for the Crucifixion has survived. The fact that in all three basic variants of the composition, the essential arrangement of the Crucifixion and other figures remains largely unaltered would suggest that Pieter Brueghel the Younger or his workshop may well have had access to some original painting or drawing by the hand of the elder Bruegel, or at least a tracing of either, but none such has survived. Recent examination by infra-red reflectography has revealed detailed underdrawing on both the present panel and that in Antwerp. The underdrawing in the Coppée panel is very much more assured but, remarkably, does not seem to include the distant vista and city of Jerusalem (fig. 4).8 There can be little doubt that it is the design of the present panel, which is the earliest of all the extant examples, which most closely reflects the work of Pieter Bruegel the Elder. As in much of the Elder’s work, it is the landscape which dominates the scene. Its spectacular birds-eye viewpoint, figures in contemporary dress and rocky terrain are all familiar aspects of the 'World landscape' tradition of the sixteenth century. The imposing rocky bluffs which so dominate the scene are surely inspired by Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s depictions of those seen on his journey across the Alps in the early 1550s. Similar or more spectacular outcrops recur, for example, in his Large Alpine landscape engraving of 1555–56, or in his painting of The Flight into Egypt of 1563 today in the Courtauld Galleries (Seilern Bequest) in London (fig. 1).9 The multitude of characters and their diverse facial types certainly recall those of Bruegel’s multi-figural inventions, such as the Combat between Carnival and Lent of 1559 in Vienna. There is some evidence to suggest that such an original by Pieter Bruegel the Elder may have existed. In the inventory of Hendrik Bartels made in 1672, there is a record of: ‘Een schilderey van de Cruyssingh Cristy. Van den Ouden Breugel f.150’ (‘A painting of the Crucifixion of Christ. By the Elder Bruegel 150 florins’).10 Although the posited value of 150 florins is well below that a genuine work by Bruegel might have been expected to fetch at that date, such a record does at least suggest that a known composition by the Elder may have existed. Perhaps more importantly, the famous antiquarian Aernout van Buchel, known as Buchelius (1583–1639) describes in his journal Diarium Res Pictoriæ a 'Crucifix' by the elder Bruegel, which was dated 1559 and which he saw in the collection of Bartholomeus Ferreris in Leyden, the man to whom Karel van Mander dedicated part of Het Schilder Boeck of 1603–04.11 His description, which implies that parts of the design were painted in monochrome, does not however fit with any surviving examples of Bruegel's work.
The absence therefore of any certain record of a work by Pieter Brueghel’s father, either a painting, drawing or engraving, led several scholars such as Gluck to assert that the design of the Crucifixion was that of Pieter Brueghel the Younger alone. Hulin de Loo believed that the rocky landscape was a feature added by Pieter Brueghel the Younger to his father's design.12 The evidence of the lack of underdrawing in the central part of the picture would certainly support this view, and suggest that this section was entirely the invention of Pieter Brueghel the Younger's own imagination. While Marlier refrained from making a definitive statement, he concluded that the younger Brueghel had merely elaborated on his father's design. Ertz, whose recent study represents the most in-depth analysis of this question, is inclined to believe that such an original must have existed, which provided inspiration for Pieter Brueghel the Younger and his brother Jan, as well as other contemporaries such as Joos de Momper (1581–1642).13 Walter Gibson has recently proposed that the panel in the Noordbrabants Museum suggests that Bruegel himself may have been influenced by the work of Jan van Amstel or the drawings of Mathys Cock.14
In contrast to all these works, however, it is clear that by 1617, the year of the Budapest panel (fig. 3), painted only two years after the present panel was completed, Pieter Brueghel the Younger had begun to evolve a very different setting for his depictions of the Crucifixion. Gone are the towering rocky outcrops which dominate the Coppée prototype, and in their place is introduced the edge of a forest on the right, and on the left a series of panoramas of either hills or towns. The height of the two panels is very different – the Budapest panel is over 20 cms shorter – and with it the elevated viewpoint of the original is lowered, almost to that of the spectator. Although the same tracing seems to have been used for the complex multi-figural groups, as with other variants the landscape and townscape settings vary considerably. In some cases the landscape itself has been passed to another workshop for completion; that in Budapest, for example, is quite clearly the work of Brueghel’s Antwerp contemporary Joos de Momper and his shop. It may be that the ex-Van Gysel and Piloty versions represent an intermediate stage in the evolution of this change in the composition, one in which Pieter Brueghel the Younger seems to have begun to reflect the developments in contemporary landscape painting which de Momper, among others, had introduced. This relatively rare partnership was repeated again in another Crucifixion, that now in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.15 Perhaps Pieter Brueghel the Younger was responding to the example of his brother Jan, whose own painting of this subject, painted in 1598 and today in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, had already decisively explored new boundaries in its extensive mountain landscape setting.
1. See Ertz, op. cit., 2000, vol. II, pp. 435–38, catalogue nos. E414 – A434.
2. Exhibited, Antwerp, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Brueghel–Brueghel. Une famille de peintres flamands vers 1600, 3 May – 26 July 1998, no. 13, reproduced.
3. Ertz, op. cit., 2000, pp. 435–36, nos. E416, E418 and E419.
4. Auction, Hanover, Zell, 18 May 1949, lot 109. Ibid., p. 437, no. F426; see also Marlier under Literature 1969, p. 290, no. 2. The signature form was apparently BRVEGHEL, the form adopted by Pieter Brueghel the Younger after 1616.
5. Ertz, op. cit., 2000, pp. 436–38, nos. F424, F428 and F434, only the last reproduced.
6. Inv. no. 2400. Panel, 116 x 160 cm. Ertz, op. cit., 2000, p. 437, no. A432.
7. For both versions see Ertz, op. cit., 2000, pp. 427–29, figs. 307 and 311, and p. 435–36, cat. nos. 417 and 321.
8. For which see Currie and Allart under Literature, 2012, vol. II, pp. 623–27, figs 426a, 427a, 428a, 429a.
9. Reproduced in F. Grossmann, Breugel. The Paintings, London 1955, pp. 194–95, no. 66, reproduced (with detail)
10. Cited by, inter alia, Marlier, op. cit., 1969, p. 287, and Wilmotte, under Exhibited, 1995, p. 98.
11. ‘Vidi apud Fererium een crucifix van Breugel, admodum divine pictum frequentibus admodum icunculis cum fenestris ex colore aqueo ovium albidini temperatum fenestres vero superius sive exterius errant oleo depictae albo nigro coloribus. Annus erat 1559’. See J. Hoogewerff and J. Q. van Regteren Altena ed., Arnoldus Buchelius: Res Pictoriae 1583–1649, The Hague 1928, p. 78.
12. R. van Bastelaer and G. Hulin de Loo, Pierre Breugel l'ancien: Son œuvre et son temps, Brussels 1907, pp. 161–62, cat. no. C15.
13. Ertz, op. cit., 1998–2000, pp. 417–33.
14. W. S. Gibson, Mirror of the Earth. The World Landscape in Sixteenth-Century Flemish Painting, Princeton 1989, p. 69.
15. See Sutton under Literature, 1990, p. 46, no. 15, reproduced.
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