Virtual Museum: Raising of the Cross by Peter Paul Rubens


To celebrate Rubens’ birthday yesterday, we are featuring one of his most famous paintings.

“Raising of the Cross”
Oil on panel, 1610
by Peter Paul Rubens
Flemish, 1577-1640
Cathedral of our Lady, Antwerp, Belgium

Known as “the prince of painters and the painter of princes” due to his frequent work for royal clients, Peter Paul Rubens was one of the most famous and successful European artists of the 17th century. His skill at arranging complex groupings of figures in a composition, his ability to work on a large scale, his ease at depicting diverse subjects and his personal eloquence and charm all contributed to his success. His style combined Renaissance idealization of the human form with lush brushwork, dynamic poses and a lively sense of realism. His fondness for depicting fleshy, curvaceous female bodies, in particular, has made the word “Rubenesque” a familiar term. (

Rubens painted the triptych of “Raising of the Cross” for the high altar of Antwerp’s church of St Walpurgis, which was demolished in 1817. It marked his sensational introduction of the Baroque style into Northern art. The diagonal composition is full of dynamism and animated colour. The artist had just returned from Italy, with the memory of Michelangelo, Caravaggio and Venetian painting still fresh in his mind.

In the centre, nine executioners strain with all their might to raise the cross from which Christ’s pale body hangs. The dramatic action is witnessed from the left by St John, the Virgin Mary and a group of weeping women and children. On the right, a Roman officer watches on horseback while soldiers in the background are crucifying the two thieves. In other words, the subject is spread across all three panels. The outside of the wings shows Saints Amand, Walpurgis, Eligius and Catherine of Alexandria. (


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