Van der Weyden's Calvary

Van der Weyden's Calvary
Van der Weyden's Calvary

The work of Calvary by Roger Van der Weyden is one of the most representative canvases of the painter and of Flemish painting in general. In addition, the work has been the subject of news in recent days due to a rigorous restoration carried out by experts from the Prado Museum in Madrid.

Roger Van der Weyden (1399 or 1400 – 1464) is one of the most prominent figures in northern European painting and the best representative of the Flemish school. There are not many irrefutable documents that remain of this artist, in fact we hardly know of any work that appears signed or dated, which is a great challenge for experts. Despite this, it seems that the painter was one of the most recognized figures of his time, trained in the workshop of Robert Champin, the artist achieved international fame.


According to the documents found in this regard, the table that concerns us here was donated by the artist to the Scheut Charterhouse in Brussels, this fact would explain certain liberties taken by the artist – such as, for example, the enormous size of the characters, larger than life-size – which the artist would not have been able to produce had he had to submit to the impositions of a client. Once in the Carthusian monastery, the panel was sold to an anonymous buyer who, without a doubt, today we know to be the monarch Felipe II, who would place the panel in a Segovian palace and, some time later transfer it to the monastery ofEl Escorial in Madrid; In this place, the panel would meet another of the artist's most famous works, The Descent.

For a long time the panel was missing, probably due to numerous repaints and precarious restorations to which it was subjected throughout its history. However, in the middle of the 20th century, the subsequent additions were eliminated and it recovered much of its greatness. In this Calvary Roger Van der Weyden presents us with a work in which the trompe l'oeil plays a very special role,in this way the artist has emulated in the background of the composition the same parament that would be in the Scheut Chartreuse where it was destined.

Special mention deserves the characters in the composition, the lifeless body of Jesus Christ lies hanging from the cross. His head has tilted leaning on one of his shoulders, his legs are crossed as we find ourselves before a Christ with three nails that follows the Gothic aesthetic but with a much more naturalistic treatment. The figures of Saint John and the Viren María lament before the lifeless body, María wiping away her tears with her own crying in a gesture of pain and Saint John with his hands raised crying to heaven. Both appear completely dressed in white in such a way that it acquires a sculptural and marble character that the artist has further enhanced with the placement of a red and velvety tapestry that hangs from the supposed stone wall.

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