Upon this small surface, Jannsens captures a dynamic scene. At center is Christ crowned with a thick wreath of thorns, surrounded by a mass of figures. The crimson of the blood dripping from the crown parallels the vividly colored cloak that cascades around Christ. At right is the captivating visage of Pontius Pilate, holding the cloak and looking straight out, as if to present Christ to the audience. His thick beard and his lavish clothing, from his velvety green turban to his elaborate cloak, contrast Christ’s garb and athletic figure, simply heightened and defined by modulations of light and shadow. To the left is a muscular young soldier, seen from behind, whose large arm reaches toward the lower edge of the composition firmly holding the end of a rope tied around Christ’s limp wrists. This interesting compositional device, which adds more depth and intrigue to the visual field, is further enhanced by the eyes of figures in the background peering over shoulders.
Janssens was a Flemish Baroque artist and a close contemporary of Peter Paul Rubens. As a young man, he trained in Antwerp from 1584-1587 and after travelled to Italy where he encountered the classical figures in the works of Michelangelo and Raphael, which undoubtedly inspired the sculptural elements that defined much of his artistic output, including the present painting. He returned to Antwerp in 1602, and in the years prior to Rubens’ return in 1608, established his reputation as a professional artist, becoming the dean of the Guild of Saint Luke and welcoming countless commissions. Upon Rubens’ arrival back in Antwerp, an artistic rivalry commenced. It is of no surprise that Rubens also explored a similar composition to the present in his Ecce Homo of circa 1610, which shows a group of figures at three-quarter length, with a brightly illumined Christ at center surrounded by Pontius Pilate and a singular soldier (fig. 1).2
Janssens is well-known to have completed versions of his most popular and successful works, but most often these preserve the large scale, as seen with his many iterations of Saint Jerome. The present work, however, is surprisingly one of only two known examples in which Janssens completed an iteration of a larger painting on a reduced scale. The other example is a small oil on paper painting by Janssens3 that repeats the composition found in his large panel of Diana and her Nymphs at the Alte Pinakothek in Munich.4
1. Oil on panel, 126 by 96 cm., inv. no. Dep.2634.
2. Oil on panel, 125.7 by 96.5 cm., The Hermitage, Saint Petersburg, inv. no. 3778.
3. Oil on paper laid on panel, 32.2 by 24.5 cm. Last recorded at auction in Cologne, Kunsthaus Lempertz, 20 November 2010, lot 1043.
4. Oil on panel, 122.5 by 93.7 cm., Alte Pinakothek, Munich, inv. no. 13111.
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