Raising of the Cross
Hollstein LIII.100.5 iv/iv
Sheet: 61.5 x 124.5 cm (24 3/16 x 49 in.) Framed: 91.4 x 157.5 x 7.6 cm (36 x 62 x 3 in.)
Medium or Technique
Engraving and etching
Not On View
Engraving and etching on three copper plates
Four feet wide and printed from three plates, Withouck’s engraving reproduces Ruben’s colossal tripartite altarpiece which is now in Antwerp’s Cathedral. Though Rubens himself made just one or two prints, he was the most powerful force in printmaking from 1620 to 1640. He employed a stable of printmakers to produce both engravings and woodcuts based on his designs. He exerted considerable stylistic and technical influence so that the prints would have a recognizable-if not completely uniform-“Rubens” look. The output ran to hundreds of images, among which “The Raising of the Cross” is one of the largest.
Though it is now in the Cathedral, Rubens painted the triptych for the Church of St. Walburgis in 1610-11, shortly after his return from Italy. With panels more than 14 feet tall and thundering with inspiration from Michelangelo, Tintoretto, and Caravaggio, the painting helped to propel Rubens to the forefront of Northern European art. Later in the decade, Rubens became increasingly interested in publicizing his work through printed reproductions. His plan to have the most talented of his engravers, Lucas Vorsterman, make a print after the famous painting was derailed when the unstable Vorsterman made an attempt on his life in 1622. Many years later, Rubens assigned the task to the competent hands of Withouck. Even though greatly reduced from its model, the engraving strongly suggests the power of the painting. Systematically engraved to convey the muscular forms as well as the expressive details, the engraving impresses from afar and intrigues at close range.
Jacob Burckhardt (1818-1897, Basel); by descent to heirs who consigned it to Christie's, London 30 November 1999; to Paul McCarron (New York); to Robert and Barbara Wheaton (Concord, MA); their gift to MFA, December 12, 2007.
Gift of Robert Bradford and Barbara Ketcham Wheaton