Maarten van Heemskerck


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Author: Maarten van Heemskerck
Painting, Oil on canvas mounted on panel, 100.7x86.3 cm
Origin: Netherlands, Between 1545 and 1550

Heemskerck, one of the leading italianising painters in 16th-century Netherlandish painting, here included all the elements of the scene as described in the text of the four Gospels. The dark sky indicated the eclipse of the sun at the moment of Christ's death; Adam's skull lies on Calvary; the sign saying INRI hangs on the cross; the blind Longinus pierces Christ's side with his spear; a sponge with vinegar is being offered on a stick to Christ. The complex multi-figure composition is built along the Renaissance principles of symmetry and balanced form. Rising up in the centre is the cross with the crucified Christ, while to his sides are the figures of the two criminals, twisted in agony. In the foreground of the central panel we see the soldiers gambling for Jesus's robe, and the Virgin fainting from grief into the arms of St John. The side panels show the man who commissioned the altar , his wife and daughter and their patron saints. The stressed muscularity of the naked bodies, the sharp turns and foreshortening of the figures, the dynamic contrasts of light and shade and the twisting lines are all evidence of just how strongly Heemskerck was influenced by Michelangelo. Yet the broken composition, the combination of different points of view and the bright colouring deprive the painting of monumentality and recall the artist's northern origins.

Personage: Christ
Source of entry: acquired in Paris with the assistance of Baron Dominique Vivant Denon, 1811
Theme: The Bible and Christianity
Exibition: Netherlandish Art: 15th - early 17th centuries

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