Drawn by the Brush: Oil Sketches by Peter Paul Rubens
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Rubens as Entrepreneur: Designs for Sculpture, Architecture and Prints
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Peter Paul Rubens
The Elevation of the Cross, ca. 1637-38
Oil on paper, backed by canvas, 60 x 126.5 cm (later enlarged to 70 x 131.5 cm)
Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto. Purchase, 1928, acc. no. 906

Catalog Entry by Marjorie E. Wieseman

The Toronto Elevation of the Cross served as the modello for Hans (Johannes) Witdoek's 1638 engraving after one of Rubens's early Antwerp triumphs, the imposing altarpiece painted in 1610-11 for the church of St. Walburga in Antwerp (for a detailed analysis of the commission, see Judson 2000, pp. 93-94, and G. Martin 1966, passim). Presumably at the insistence of the church fathers, the St. Walburga altarpiece assumed a traditional triptych form, with the principal subject—the Raising of the Cross—occupying the central panel. This portion of the design fairly explodes with raw physical power, as a team of muscular soldiers and executioners hauls the cross bearing Christ's body to an upright position. Transcending the structural limitations of the rather old-fashioned triptych format, Rubens boldly linked the flanking scenes to the central composition through the use of a contiguous landscape background. The left wing depicts the Virgin, St. John, and several distraught witnesses before a rocky bluff overgrown with trees; the right depicts the two thieves crucified alongside Christ and Roman soldiers mounted on restive steeds...

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