The present altarpiece is a good example of the late years of Antwerp Mannerism. Several aspects point towards an execution date of between 1525 and 1530. The typical architecture in the background, notably the round towers with slender openings, correspond to those seen in the work of well known Antwerp artists such as Jan de Beer, the Master of 1518, Joos van Cleve and Pieter Coecke van Aelst. The richly decorated robe of Saint Veronica and the ornamented cuirasses and helmets relate to the taste for orientalism which was popular among the Antwerp Mannerists.
The exchange of drawings, model books, and collaboration between the various Antwerp workshops led to the development of a recognisable Antwerp idiom, which is evident in the present lot. Drs Linda Jansen kindly points out that the underdrawing - the first lay out of the composition on the grounded panel made visible by the means of infrared reflectography (fig. 1) - shows the artist's dependence on detailed models. The underdrawing is executed with the brush and a liquid medium and defines the outlines of the figures, whereas details are indicated with almost stenographic strokes, and occasionally parallel hatching to specify shadows. In turn, the painted surface follows the underdrawing with great accuracy. According to Linda Jansen these are all indications that the artist used finished model drawings to arrange his composition. However, no other versions of this composition have come down to us, nor do the individual figures appear elsewhere.
With its curved shape, the present lot was the centrepiece of a triptych, and as such is rather unique. Usually the subject of the carrying of the Cross was depicted on the wings of a Passion altarpiece with a sculpted or painted Crucifixion in the centre. In addition, the direction of the composition is traditionally from left to right, whereas in the present lot it is from right to left. Besides in landscape painting, such as in Herri met de Bles' Christ Carrying the Cross in the Princeton University Art Gallery, only one other Antwerp picture of the same period may have functioned as the central panel of a triptych with this subject, that by Pieter Coecke van Aelst in the Kunstmuseum, Basel.
We are grateful to Drs Linda Jansen for her help in cataloguing this lot.