BOSCH, Hieronymus
(b. ca. 1450, 's-Hertogenbosch, d. 1516, 's-Hertogenbosch)

Christ Carrying the Cross

Oil on panel, 57 c 32 cm
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

In the Christ Carrying the Cross, the head of Christ is silhouetted against a dense mass of grimacing soldiers and ill-wishers, one of them bearing the familiar toad on his shield. Christ's physical agony is heightened by the spike-studded wooden blocks which dangle fore and aft from his waist, lacerating his feet and ankles with every step. This cruel device was frequently represented by Dutch artists well into the sixteenth century. The high horizon is old-fashioned, as is the lack of spatial recession in the middle distance. In the foreground, soldiers torment the bad thief while the good thief kneels before a priest. The almost frantic intensity of his confession, well-expressed by the open-mouthed profile, contrasts vividly with the passive response of the priest who seems to suppress a yawn. The very presence of the priest is, of course, an anachronism, probably inspired by what Bosch had witnessed at contemporary executions; the same motif appears in the great multi-figure Christ Carrying the Cross which Pieter Bruegel the Elder was to paint almost a century later.