(b. ca. 1430, Colmar, d. 1491, Breisach)

Carrying the Cross

c. 1474
Engraving, 285 x 428 mm
The Hermitage, St. Petersburg

Martin Schongauer was the first major painter who also created engravings. Although more widely recognized for his prints, he was a highly successful painter in Colmar and in nearby Breisach. As a result, he brought a more pictorial aesthetic to his prints, as evident in his largest ad most ambitious engraving, Christ Carrying the Cross.

In a sweeping arc from Jerusalem towards Golgotha, over fifty figures proceed through the rocky landscape. At the centre Christ falls under the weight of the cross. Anecdotal details abound: some people jeer, some talk with each other and others stare curiously. A consistent lighting unifies the entire scene, varying from intense whites through a range of greys to deep blacks, especially around Christ.

Christ Carrying the Cross, with its busy narrative and deep landscape owes a debt to Netherlandish painting, and, secondarily, to a lost Van Eyck composition.