Drawn by the Brush: Oil Sketches by Peter Paul Rubens
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The Church Triumphant
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Peter Paul Rubens
Christ on the Cross, ca. 1618-20
Oil on panel, 20.3 x 15.3 cm
Otto Naumann, Ltd., New York


Catalog Entry by Marjorie E. Wieseman

At the very center of this diminutive sketch is the figure of Christ, nailed to a rough wooden cross and surrounded by a tight cluster of saints. Christ inclines his head to the right and appears to communicate with the Virgin Mary and John the Evangelist; the motif recalls a detail of the Crucifixion described in John 19:25-27, in which Christ said to his mother, "Woman behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple [John], Behold thy mother!" The Virgin collapses to the ground, her side pierced by a sword, a reference to the iconography of the Sorrows of the Virgin. Kneeling at the base of the cross, Mary Magdalen embraces Christ's feet, a reminder of the moving episode in which she washed Christ's feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair (Luke 7:38). At the far left is St. Peter, identified not only by his usual attribute of the keys but also by the inverted cross of his martyrdom. Just behind and to the left is another bearded figure wearing a pilgrim's hat and carrying a staff, who has been identified either as St. James Major or possibly St. Roch, patron saint of plague victims (Freedberg, in exh. cat. New York 1995, p. 55). Wearing a lemon yellow cloak over a blue robe is St. Philip, carrying the cross on which he, too, was crucified. To the right, behind the figure of St. John, is St. Andrew with his X-shaped cross; St. George in armor with his customary banner of a red cross on a white ground; and a crowned male figure holding a scepter and wearing a purple fur-trimmed robe, possibly representing King David. Tucked neatly into the lower right corner of the composition is the kneeling figure of St. Francis, the stigmata of Christ's wounds prominently displayed on his left hand and foot...


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