The Procession to Calvary
Pieter Brueghel the younger (Brussels 1564 - Antwerp 1638)
Brueghel the Younger has set the crucifixion of Christ in a world familiar to him. Christ seems almost lost in a swell of townspeople making their way to Calvary. They are situated in a panoramic, local landscape, with a view of a Flemish town on the left and a view of mountains beyond the sea. It is Brueghel’s observation of ordinary life, full of detail and convincing gestures, that gives this painting its richness. This vast picture is the finest of five versions signed and dated by Pieter Brueghel the Younger. Dated 1602, it is loosely based on a composition by Brueghel the Elder.
Oil painting on oak panel, The Procession to Calvary by Pieter Brueghel the younger (Brussels 1564 - Antwerp 1638), signed and dated, bottom left: P. BRVEGEL / 1602. Christ is shown carrying his cross to Calvary. He is almost lost in the crowd which gathers around him. Simon of Cyrene helps him carry his cross, and Saint Veronica offers her veil (the sudarium) to him so that he can wipe the sweat from his face. The centurion, Longinus, wearing a red coat is mounted on a horse. The Virgin Mary and her companions gather in the foreground to the right, where they kneel and weep as the procession passes them. To their left is Saint John, standing in his yellow robe, his gospel in his right hand and an ink-horn slung from his girdle. Ahead of Christ in the procession are soldiers mounted on horseback. In front of the soldiers is a horse-drawn cart carrying the two thieves who were crucified to either side of Christ, the so-called Good thief in white, clutching a small crucifix, and the Bad thief in black. In the middle ground is a beggar seated by a wayside cross, being offered alms by a nun. Under a dark sky at the top right is Calvary, scattered with the instruments of execution and strewn with skulls and bones. To the left is a Flemish townscape of the period in which Brueghel lived, including a large, round building which represents the Temple of Jerusalem. Beyond the townscape are green fields, an expanse of water (possibly representing the sea of Galilee), and mountains in the distance. Pieter Brueghel the younger was the eldest son of Pieter Breughel the elder (1528-1569), generally considered the greatest Flemish painter of the 16th century. Like most of Pieter Brueghel the younger's work, this painting was inspired by his father's sweeping landscapes and scenes of contemporary peasant life, full of animation and zest. It depicts Christ's last journey, carrying the Cross to the hill of Golgotha where he was crucified. However, the animated figures in contemporary Flemish dress almost swamp the central scene of Christ carrying the Cross. It has been at Nostell since the 18th century and is one of the finest works in the collection.
Thought to have been acquired by Sir Rowland Winn, 5th Bt (1739-1785) and thence by descent; first documented in the 1806 inventory; bought by the National Trust in 2011 for the special net price of £2,703,400 with a grant of £1,033,713 from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, a grant of £500,000 from the Art Fund, grants from other trusts and foundations as well as a large contribution from the public.
Nostell Priory, The St Oswald Collection (purchased by the National Trust in 2011 with grants from the Art Fund, the National Heritage Memorial Fund, other trusts and foundations, and donations from members of the public)
Marks and inscriptions
Bottom left: P. BRVEGEL / 1602
Makers and roles
Pieter Brueghel the younger (Brussels 1564 - Antwerp 1638), artist
Bruegel: Defining a Dynasty, Holburne Museum of Art, Bath, 2017, no.21
Brockwell 1915 Maurice Walter Brockwell, Catalogue of the Pictures and Other Works of Art in the Collection of Lord St Oswald at Nostell Priory, London 1915, cat. 137, plate XXVI Marlier 1969 Georges Marlier, Pierre Bruegel le Jeune, Brussels, 1969, cat. no. 2, pp.280-5 Ertz 2000 Klaus Ertz, Pieter Brueghel der Jüngere (1564-1637/38), Die Gemälde mit kritschem Oeuvrekatalog, 2 vols., Lingen 2000, cat no. E393, pp.396, 400 & 404; ill.no.283, p.398 Laing 2010 Alastair Laing, 'Carrying the Cross' Procession to Calvary by Pieter Brueghel the Younger, Art Quarterly, Winter 2010, pp.28-33. Dennis and Laing, 2011: David Dennis and Alastair Laing. 'Who is the Man in Red' Pieter Brueghel the Younger's Procession to Calvary, Nostell. Art Quarterly, Spring 2011, p.20, p.20. Your Letters. Bruegel: Defining a Dynasty (Ed. Amy Orrock), for the exhibition at the Holburne Museum, Bath, from 11th February to 4th June 2017., cat.21