The way to Calvary and encounter with Veronica (Camino del Calvario y encuentro con la Verónica)
Among Renaissance pillars, Veronica offers Jesus a cloth to wipe off his sweat. The theme of Calvary appears on the upper part of the tapestry.
Jesus and Veronica
The narrative, analogical and anecdotic nature of the scene is typical of pre-Renaissance tapestries. Among a motley set of figures in the foreground, Veronica approaches Jesus to wipe his forehead with the cloth she holds in her hands. Christ, bearing the cross on his way to Calvary, is pushed by a burlesque executioner who pulls the cord of his tunic. The image of Simon of Cyrene, helping Jesus carry the cross, is likely to be a portrait of weaver Pieter van Aelst, as indicated by his signature which is inscribed on the galloon over his knee.
On Christ’s passing
When her son passes along, Mary faints in the arms of Apostle John, accompanied by the three Marys who contemplate the scene with deep sorrow. A procession of trumpeters, centurions, standard bearers and different executioners comes after them, shoving the prisoners. A black executioner carrying a mace stands out, and the word MORI can be read on his tunic.
Calvary is on the upper plane. Christ dead on the cross is pierced by the Longinus’ lance. John holds Mary, crumbling at the feet of the cross, while a kneeled Magdalene raises her arms in prayer. The soul of Dismas, the good thief crucified to the right of Christ, is picked up by two angels. The demons take possession of the impenitent thief, crucified to the left.
The architectural distribution recalls pre-Renaissance altar tapestries, despite the presence of Renaissance decorative elements, such as the candelieri and the putti of the pilasters, which flank the scenes in this Passion series – similar to those in the Legend of Herkenbald, woven in Brussels and completed in 1513.
Flowers and fruits
The border, a motley uninterrupted garland of flowers and fruits, is characteristic of the Brussels tapestries of the period.
The signature AELST of the weaver Pieter Van Aelst can be clearly read on the selvage of Simon of Cyrene’s gown, making it possible to classify this tapestry as part of the production of the court weaver of Philip the Handsome and Charles V during the second decade of the 16th century.
Series The Passion of Christ
First tapestry of those kept by National Heritage
Model Cartoonists from the circle of Jan van Roome and Bernard van Orley
Manufacture Pieter van Aelst, Brussels, c. 1511-1518
Fabric Gold, silver, silk and wool
Size 298 x 309 cm
Location Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial
Origin The collection of Margaret of Austria, inherited by Charles V
On display Hall of Honour, together with ‘Baldachin of Margaret’ or ‘Canopy of Charles V’, also originating from the collection put together in the palace of Mechelen by Margaret of Austria, Governor of the Netherlands
National Heritage Inv. 10005834