Lot 134
  • 134

JAN BRUEGHEL THE ELDER | Christ carrying the cross

60,000 - 80,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Follower of Jan Brueghel, circa 1700
  • Christ carrying the cross
  • oil on copper, an oval
  • 5 3/8  by 4 3/8  in.; 13.5 by 11 cm.


Private European collection, until 2012. 


E.A. Honig, Jan Brueghel and the senses of scale, University Park 2017, p. 5, reproduced p. 7, fig. 5.

Catalogue Note

Intimate in scale, yet powerful in visual impact, this diligently rendered copper of Christ carrying the cross by Jan Brueghel the Elder is meant to be appreciated from a close distance.  On a truly minuscule scale, Brueghel illustrates a crowded and dynamic scene set within a vast landscape that seemingly extends far beyond the confines of the small oval support.  Executed in Antwerp in the late 1590s,1 this exceptionally well-preserved work is distinguished by its luminous palette and thick impasto. Such remarkable examples as this helped establish Brueghel with his unparalleled reputation for creating small scale works that were "so subtle and artful that you can only wonder to look at them."2  Jan Brueghel the Elder regularly illustrated scenes from the Passion of Christ between 1596-1610, with the works of his father, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, sometimes serving as inspiration.  The subject of the present work, for example, arises from a detail at the center of his father’s Procession to Calvary (1563), which is as large as the present work is small.3  In Jan’s iteration, groups of figures frame the curving edges of the foreground.  Two soldiers on horseback appear at left, while the couple and child with a small dog at right invite the viewer into the scene.  Christ bears the burden of the cross on his shoulders with the assistance of Simon of Cyrene at center.  Surrounding him is a dense swarm of armored soldiers, marching in droves across the width of the composition, past old ruins set atop a small precipice.  Beyond is a delicate landscape, possibly Jerusalem, that winds and rolls into the mountainous distance.  The whole view is set beneath a bright sun, whose rays shine upon the singular dove flying through the sky and illuminate a vivid color palette, balanced by the soft cool hues of the background and the delicate strokes of pale pink, blue, orange and green of the central foreground. 

Comparable in composition, though even smaller in size and slightly later in date, are a series of small religious oval scenes that Brueghel completed for Cardinal Borromeo in about 1605.  The Cardinal mounted these small ivory works into a holy water stoop that is today in the Ambrosiana in Milan. 

A certificate from Dr. Klaus Ertz dated 23 January 2012 accompanies the present lot. 


1. Dated to the late 1590s by Dr. Klaus Ertz in his certificate of 23 January 2012 (as Jan Brueghel the Elder). 

2.  An accolade received from Duke Johann Ernst of Saxony recorded during his visit to Antwerp in 1614.  See Johann Wilhelm Neumayrs von Ramssla Wahrhaftige Beschreibung der Reise, p. 372-373, as referenced in Honig, under Literature, p. 7, n. 22.

3. Oil on oak panel, 124.2 by 170.7 cm, signed and dated 1563, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, inv. no. 1025.  See E. Oberthaler, et al, Bruegel: The Hand of the Master, exhibition catalogue, Vienna 2018, cat. no. 67, reproduced.

4. All oil on ivory, 3.5 by 5 cm., Ambrosiana, Milan, inv. no. 271a-d.  See K. Ertz and C. Nitze Ertz, Jan Brueghel der Ältere: Die Gemälde, volume II, Lingen 2008,  pp. 658-660, cat. nos. 317-320, reproduced (and incorrectly recorded as on copper).  For a color reproduction of the holy water stoop, see Honig, op. cit., p. 43, reproduced fig. 29.