Pieter Brueghel the Younger Brussels 1564 - 1637/8 Antwerp
- Pieter Brueghel the Younger
The Procession to Calvary
signed and dated lower left: P.BRVEGHEL 1607
- oil on oak panel
Possibly the Princes de Carignan, until 1743;
The Bishops of Antwerp, Episcopal Palace, Antwerp, probably until the French Revolution;
Musée Royal des Beaux-Arts, Antwerp, by 1859;
Exchanged by the museum in 1897 for another version of the same composition with Mme. Ernest-Isidore-Hubert Slingeneyer de Goeswin;
By descent to Robert Slingeneyer de Goeswin, Villers-Cotteret;
By whom sold, London, Sotheby’s, 8 July 1987, lot 70;
Anonymous sale, New York, Christie’s, 10 January 1990, lot 180, for $1,375,000 (=£830,000);
With Johnny van Haeften, London;
With Richard Green, London,
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1995.
Possibly Paris, Hôtel de Soissons, Catalogue des tableaux du cabinet de feu S.A.S. Monseigneur le Prince de Carignan, Premier Prince du Sang de Sardaigne…, July 30 and days following, 1742 (as Pieter Breugel the Elder);
Possibly Paris, Hôtel de Soissons, Deuxième vente du Prince de Carignan, June 18 and days following, 1743, lot 16 (as Pieter Breugel the Elder);
Notice des tableaux exposés au Musée d’Anvers, Antwerp 1827, p. 8, no. 18 (as Pieter Breugel the Elder);
Catalogue du Musée d’Anvers, Antwerp 1849, pp. 131-132, no. 173 (as Pieter Breugel the Elder);
Catalogue du Musée d’Anvers, 2nd ed., Antwerp 1857, pp. 182-183, no. 255 (as Pieter Brueghel the Younger);
W. Burger, Musée d’Anvers, Paris, 1862, pp. 71 and 164 (as Pieter Brueghel the Younger);
A. Michiels, "Brueghel des Paysans", in C. Blanc, Histoire des peintres de toutes les écoles: école flamande, Paris 1864, p. 8;
Catalogue du Musée d’Anvers, 2nd revised ed., Antwerp 1871, p. 7, no. 31;
F.J. van den Branden, Geschiedenis der Antwerpsche Schilderschool, I, Antwerp 1883, p. 441;
Catalogue du Musée Royal des Beaux-Arts d’Anvers, Antwerp 1891, no. 31;
G. Glück, Breugels Gemälde, Vienna 1932, p. 79, no. 67;
G. Marlier, Pieter Brueghel le jeune, Brussels 1969, pp. 38 and 282, no. 5, and p. 284, cited under no. 13;
C. de Tolnay, P. Bianconi, Tout l’oeuvre peint de Bruegel l’ancien, Paris 1981, p. 114, no. 88;
Catalogue du Musée d’Anvers, Antwerp 1988, p. 62, no. 31;
K. Ertz, Pieter Brueghel der Jüngere, Lingen 1988/2000, vol. I, pp. 396 and 405, cat. no. E396, reproduced;
Dutch and Flemish Old Master Paintings, exhibition catalogue, London, Johnny van Haeften, December 1992, no. 4, reproduced.
This is one of Pieter Brueghel the Younger's grandest and most important individual compositions, and a veritable tour de force of his early maturity. A great swelling of people fills the landscape, moving in a great curve from the city of Jerusalem on the left towards the hill of Calvary in the distance on the right, where storm clouds are already darkening the sky. In the foreground, occupying the very centre of the design, the figure of Christ stumbles under the weight of the cross, helped only by the figure of St. Simon of Cyrene. Beside Him, Saint Veronica moves to mop His brow with her veil, to the indifference of the crowd around her. In the procession behind ride two of the Elders and a judge, two engaged in conversation, the third seemingly asleep on his horse. To the right, partly concealed by trees, stand or kneel the family and followers of Christ, part of the crowd but set apart by their grief.
The subject of the Procession to Calvary seems to have been of particular importance to the painter's early career. This is the latest and largest of only five signed and dated versions of this composition. The earliest of these is that dated 1599 today in the Galleria degli Uffizi in Florence, which is one of Pieter Brueghel the Younger's very earliest works. The other dated versions are the pictures of 1602 from the St. Oswald collections at Nostell Priory, that of 1603 in Antwerp, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, and the last that of 1606 formerly in the Staatliche Galerie Moitzburg in Halle and destroyed in the second World War.1 Thereafter Ertz (see Literature) lists another seventeen versions of this composition, and of these he considers only a further seven to be autograph works by Brueghel, of which four are signed. All of the surviving signed and dated versions appear to be of particularly high quality, but the extraordinary state of preservation of the present panel reveals a richness of colour and attention to detail that is exceptional in Brueghel's oeuvre. Marlier, who first published it in 1969 did not know this painting at first hand, but Ertz describes it as "..von allerbester malerischer Qualität".
Although the design of this work is Pieter Brueghel's own, he would no doubt have seen and been influenced by his father Pieter Bruegel the Elder's famous treatment of the same subject, painted in 1564 and today in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.2 Although the design of both paintings is very different, both avail themselves of a long compositional tradition going back to the works of Jan van Eyck, including paintings by Jan van Amstel and Pieter Aertsen.3 The composition is built upon a sweeping diagonal, with the procession of figures streaming from left to right towards the distant hill of Calvary. Brueghel the Younger has accentuated the element of the procession itself, and this has in turn allowed him to develop the left side of the composition much more than his father, specifically to enlarge the panorama of the city of Jerusalem. The walled city is self-evidently Netherlandish in type and architecture, but would have been recognisable to Brueghel's contemporaries as the Holy City by the inclusion of the large circular triple-tiered structure seen below the trees on the far left of the painting. Brueghel the Younger has also added a second city square to the right of this, presumably to indicate where Christ was judged and presented to the people. The two paintings share the placing of the distant hill of Calvary in the upper right corner, and both equally place the mourning followers and family of Christ in the lower hand part of the design, but apart from this their interpretations could not be more different. In Bruegel the Elder's work, the figure of Christ, although central, is deliberately reduced to an almost incidental detail among the crowds, thus highlighting mankind's eternal indifference and blindness to the significance of great events. By contrast, Brueghel the Younger has brought the figure of Christ into the foreground and made Him not only larger but more central to the design. This important central development of the design is further reinforced by a number of smaller changes. In the Vienna painting, Christ is mocked and derided by the soldiery, but here they escort Him quietly. Similarly St. Simon Cyrene is no longer shown forcibly brought to His aid but helps support the Cross without interruption. A pilgrim, seated with his back to the spectator in the centre of the foreground, takes the place of a peddlar in the Vienna painting. Saint Veronica is also introduced, offering her veil to mop the brow of Christ. Most pointedly of all, across the road from the procession, the younger Brueghel has introduced a shrine, surmounted by a cross, where a woman offers money to a crippled beggar.4
Taken individually these changes by Pieter Brueghel the Younger may seem relatively small, but taken together they not only confirm his independent authorship of the design, but also provide a deeper and more spiritual context for his subject. In contrast to his father's overtly pessimistic view of human nature, where Christ's suffering is mocked or unheeded, the younger Brueghel seems to have wished to express a sincere and devout sympathy for His sacrifice, inviting the spectator to contemplate directly on the Passion of our Saviour, and to remind us that His message has not gone unheeded. As if to emphasise this, the mourning figures of Christ's family and followers are released from their grief in isolation, reduced in scale, and brought closer to the mass of the crowd. This more optimistic view of human nature, or perhaps just a simpler and more spiritual approach to the subject, no doubt reflected the rather calmer political climate of the early seventeenth century compared to the turbulence of his father's day. Just two years after Pieter Bruegel the Elder completed his painting in 1566, the southern Netherlands would erupt in revolt. Half a century later, the city of Antwerp lived in by his son had been unified under Catholic Hapsburg control. It is possible that Brueghel the Younger's more 'orthodox' telling of the tale of the Procession to Calvary was simply more suited to the political climate of his day, avoiding any implied criticism of his Hapsburg overlords, but it nevetheless introduces a religious element to his work that is all too often absent from his more familiar kermesses.
1. Ertz, under Literature, pp. 404-5, cat. nos. E392 to E395, reproduced figs. 282, 283, 284 and 289.
2. F. Grossmann, Brueghel. The Paintings, London 1973, p. 195, reproduced plates 69-79.
3. Marlier, under Literature, 1969, p. 280, records Karel van Mander's anecdote that "...twee stucken Cruys-draginghen..." were recorded in the Imperial collections, thus raising the possibility that another version of the subject by Pieter Bruegel the Elder may once have existed. There is, however, no other evidence to support this assertion.
4. As Glück was the first to observe, this detail is taken from Hieronymous Cock's reproductive engraving after Pieter Bruegel the Elder's series of landscapes entitled the Plaustricum Belgicum.