Christ’s Passion is the pivotal event for Christians all over the world. This is the reason that it has been the subject of so many works of art. Today I present the relevant works of art from the collection of one of the great small museums of the world, the Thyssen Bornemisza Museum in Madrid, Spain.
Important note: All the pictures (except one) are from the archives of the Thyssen-Bornemisza museum and are presented here for non-commercial purposes. All readers of this post are kindly requested to respect this condition of use.
The earliest and first work in this review is “The Crucifixion with the Virgin, Saint John and Angels”, by the Sienese artist Ugolino di Nerio, or Ugolino da Siena. The panel was part of an altarpiece in a church in Florence, Italy.
Tempera and gold on panel. 135 x 89 cm.
The composition is minimal, illuminated by the golden background, which gives to the painting a metaphysical dimension. The Virgin and St John turn their faces to the right of the picture, counterbalancing Jesus’s face which turns to the left. I particularly like the angels as they fly around the cross.
Descent from the Cross, Anonymous German (Middle Rhine), c. 1420.
Oil on panel. 62 x 30 cm
In stark contrast to the Crucifixion of Ugolino di Nerio, “The descent from the Cross” of the anonymous German painter is characterized by a complex composition and a realism that cannot be escaped. Notice that there is no scenery in the background.
The Crucifixion, Anonymous Valencian Artist, c. 1450-146
Oil on panel. 44.8 x 34 cm
Although the palette of the painting is austere, earthy and on the dark side, this is a painting with complex composition and expression of emotions. I cannot help but adore the landscape in the background, a clear reference to the Northern European school of painting.
The Crucifixion with the Virgin, Saint John the Baptist, Saint John the Evangelist and Saint Francis,
Paolo Uccello, c. 1460-1465
Tempera on panel. 45 x 67 cm
Back to the minimalism of tempera. What shines in the otherwise grim composition is the golden Cross and the garments of the Virgin and St John. The horizontal (2 figures on the left, two on the right of the Cross) and vertical (dark sky at the top, dark ground at the bottom) symmetry is the highlight of the composition.
The Crucifixion, Gerard David, c.147
Oil on panel. 88 x 56 cm
The Flemish painter Gerard David here shows the clear influence of Rogier van der Weyden among others. The palette of the bluish colors in the landscape announce the arrival of Patinir.
Lamentation Triptych, Master of the Legend of Saint Lucy, c. 1475
Oil on panel. Central panel: 75 x 61 cm; lateral wings: 75 x 27 cm
A Crucifixion triptych from the North, with the characteristic color palette, and the bluish landscape. The influence of Rogier van der Weyden and his period is clear.
The Risen Christ, Bramantino, c. 1490
Mixed media on panel. 109 x 73 cm
The risen Christ is a rare subject, and here we have one painting of it. But this is not a happy Christ, there is no triumph, no joy, here we have a tormented Christ who is still feeling the horror of crucifixion, and the background is a ruined building of the classical period. The full moon is up in the sky, but the light is minimal. This is a dark, sad, painting. One of my favorites!
Christ with the Cross, El Greco, c.1587-1596
Oil on canvas. 66 x 52.5 cm
El Greco here gives us a picture of the face of Christ, before the Crucifixion, at the height of His torment. It is a stunning painting, because the painter accomplishes so much with so little. Literally minimal, only the red garment appears on the canvas.
Christ on the Cross, Zurbaran, c. 1630
Oil on canvas. 214 x 143.5 cm
This is a picture that reminds me of a similar painting by Velazquez (in the Prado) and another one by Goya (also in Prado). It must have been popular and this is the reason there are so many around.
La Pietà, Jose de Ribera, c. 1633
Oil on canvas. 157 x 210 cm
Wonderful, dark, strong, minimal painting.
Christ on the Cross, Anthony van Dyck, c.1627
Oil on panel. 105.3 x 73 cm
Compare this painting to the Crucifixion by Zurbaran. This is dynamic, almost live, you can feel the torment and the escaping life out of Christ’s body. Wonderful.
Christ on the Cross, Anthony van Dyck, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
This is a black and white chalk drawing in the Metropolitan Museum of New York, apparently done before the painting in the Thyssen.
Here our little journey in the Thyssen collection ends. I hope that you have found at least one picture that you liked. Happy Easter!