Discover a stirring portrayal of devotion and sacrifice this Easter at Kunsthuis André in Middelburg. We are proud to showcase a profound work that resonates with the spirit of the season—a piece that is created by a follower of the great Peter Paul Rubens. Titled “Christ on the Way to Calvary,” this oil painting captures the poignant journey of Christ to the site of the Crucifixion, a scene that has inspired believers and art aficionados alike for centuries.

Easter Reflections: Embracing the Passion in Baroque Splendor at Kunsthuis André

This oil painting, which is the work of a follower of Peter Paul Rubens, depicts a dramatic and emotionally charged interpretation of “Christ on the Way to Calvary.” The scene is a classic representation from the New Testament, where Christ, bearing the weight of the cross, is led to the place of his crucifixion. This event is chronicled in the Gospel of Luke and is a pivotal moment in the Passion narrative.

In the painting, Christ is central and slightly off to the left, depicted as struggling under the cross, which is a common motif in art history to symbolize his humanity and suffering. The Roman soldiers, their bodies rendered with muscular definition and dynamic movement, display a certain vigor that is typical of Rubens’ followers, reflecting the influence of Rubens’ baroque style.

Easter Reflections: Embracing the Passion in Baroque Splendor at Kunsthuis André
Collectie KUNSTHUIS André Middelburg

The use of chiaroscuro—the contrast of light and dark—focuses the viewer’s attention on Christ and creates a dramatic atmosphere. The rich, warm palette and the folds of the garments are painted with a sense of weight and texture that add to the painting’s physicality. Meanwhile, the expressions on the figures’ faces convey a range of emotions from distress to indifference, encapsulating the varied human reactions to Christ’s ordeal.

A hallmark of Baroque art

The composition is dynamic, with figures almost spilling out of the frame, a technique that pulls viewers into the action. This dynamism is a hallmark of Baroque art, aiming to evoke an emotional response and to make the scene more relatable to viewers.

Christ on the Way to Calvary Collectie KUNSTHUIS André Middelburg
Collectie KUNSTHUIS André Middelburg

The artist who painted this, has successfully captured the essence of Rubens’ style: the drama, the movement, and the emotional intensity. However, there might be subtle differences in the execution of the brushwork or in the anatomical precision which could be telling of a different hand at work. Such paintings were common in the period, where studio artists would emulate the styles of their masters, both as a form of flattery and as a way to continue the master’s legacy while also satisfying the demand for religious artwork.

The ornate frame complements the grandeur of the scene, suggesting that the piece was intended for a setting that values both the religious narrative and the artwork’s aesthetic presence. Overall, the painting is a poignant depiction of a climactic moment in Christian narrative, rich in detail and emotion, reflective of the Baroque period’s dramatic artistic sensibilities.

Original painting by Peter Paul Rubens

The original painting by Peter Paul Rubens was commissioned in 1634, as a high altarpiece of the church of Saint-Peter and Paulus at the prestigious Benedictine abbey of Afflighem (Belgium). The altarpiece with the impressive dimensions of 569 x 355 cm was delivered in 1637. Currently it is at Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels.

A small drawing on paper (its whereabouts unknown) and three preliminary sketches on panel are considered to precede the Afflighem altarpiece; a grisaille in the Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Brussels; a modello in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam and an oil sketch in the Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen.

Two years before Rubens commission for Afflighem Abby, Rubens made a grisaille of the subject of Christ ascending mount Golgotha, which Paulus Pontius translated into a print in the same year (1632). This grisaille is now in the collection of the Berkeley University Art Museum and it shows a very detailed and unified rendering of the subject.

Possibly Rubens used this print to get the commission for a new altarpiece for the Afflighem abbey, and someone might have used the same print to execute the painting, which is on display and for sale at Kunsthuis André in Middelburg.

More info to be found here.