For painters of the extended sixteenth century (1450-1650), this biblical scene provided a wealth of expressive and even satirical details, as well as the opportunity to criticise current social irregularities (whether openly or otherwise). The iconic painting by Pieter Brueghel the Younger is presented as part of an impressive pictorial tradition, surrounded by work by his predecessors and contemporaries, as well as by the masters who followed him. In the extensive exhibition – totalling around 75 works from the late Middle Ages to the High Baroque – visitors can feast their eyes on works by Albrecht Dürer, Lucas van Leyden, Quinten Massijs, Bernard van Orley, Jacob Jordaens and Peter Paul Rubens.

Art as covert resistance?

Originally, in the late Middle Ages, we see the Procession to Calvary depicted mainly as part of the Passion; the series of events leading up to Christ’s death on the cross, with the Crucifixion as the undisputed ‘highlight’. From the early sixteenth century, the subject evolved as an autonomous theme, rich in detail and meaning. The exhibition focuses on the development of this pictorial tradition, as well as on the social and political circumstances in which Pieter Brueghel the Younger created his compositions.

Years of bad weather, poor harvests, disease, social unrest and religious discord culminated in 1566 in the Iconoclasm. Reformers smashed what they regarded as blasphemous images and paintings in Catholic churches to smithereens. The regent dispatched by the Spanish King Philip II of Habsburg to restore order, Fernando Àlvarez de Toledo, embarked on a reign of terror. Religious and political dissidents were relentlessly persecuted and executed by the infamous Duke of Alba and his ‘Court of Blood’. On his deathbed in 1569, Pieter Bruegel the Elder is supposed to have told his wife to burn his drawings, as their vicious satire could have endangered his family. Decades later, in his Procession to Calvary, his son Pieter Brueghel the Younger gave the soldiers accompanying Christ to Golgotha the banner of the Habsburgs to carry. Did he do so because his contemporaries would identify better with a ‘contemporary’ religious scene? Or was he painting in the spirit of his father and using the emblem as a covert reproach to the authority that decrees death to reformers? We will never know for sure, as the painter must have deliberately left his intentions open to interpretation.

The Procession to Calvary by Brueghel the Younger is presented as part of a pictorial tradition, surrounded by work by his predecessors and contemporaries, as well as by the masters who followed him, including such illustrious names as Albrecht Dürer, Lucas van Leyden, Quinten Massijs, Bernard van Orley, Jacob Jordaens and Peter Paul Rubens.

Bonnefanten

The exhibition Brueghel and contemporaries: art as covert resistance? follows what can now safely be regarded as a tradition of exhibitions in the Bonnefanten about the Brueg[h]el workshop. The museum’s collection includes no fewer than 5 Brueghels, including the iconic Procession to Calvary that forms the key to this exhibition. The Bonnefanten’s collection of old masters focuses on the art of the 15th and 16th century from the Southern Netherlands, and that is the region and period in which the exhibition Brueghel and contemporaries: art as covert resistance? is situated.

Publication

The exhibition is accompanied by a lavishly illustrated catalogue of 232 pages, with contributions from Lars Hendrikman, Dorien Tamis, Sarah Babin, Saskia Cohen-Willner, Ann Diels and others. The publication is available from our museum shop and online, in Dutch and English, for €32.50. NL - ISBN 9789462623156 & ENG - ISBN 9789462623163.

Curator: Lars Hendrikman
Guest curator: Dorien Tamis

Note for the press: for more information and visual material, please contact Justin Livesey through pressoffice@bonnefanten.nl or 0031 (0)6 53 22 68 16.

Header image: Workshop of Pieter Brueghel the Younger, The Procession to Calvary, ca. 1605 - 151 x 200 x 11, oil on panel © Photography Peter Cox / Bonnefanten, on long-term loan from The Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands