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Charon crossing the Styx
Patinir, Joachim
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Patinir, Joachim

Dinant, 1480 - Amberes, 1524

Charon crossing the Styx

1520 - 1524. Oil on panel, 64 x 103 cm.

In addition to the originality of its subject, this painting by Patinir is also remarkable for its unusual composition within Patinir`s oeuvre. The artist has divided the space vertically into three zones, one on either side and the third occupied by the broad river in the centre, on whose opaque and mirror-like surface Charon steers his boat. For the iconography of this subject, Patinir draws together biblical images and classical sources. An angel on the promontory, another two accompanying the souls not far away, and a few more with other tiny souls in the background allow us to recognize the paradise on the left as a Christian heaven, not the Elysean Fields. On the other hand, the dog Cerberus seems to identify the inferno shown on the right as Hades, thus associating it with Greek mythology, as do Charon and his boat.

The painter places the scene at the moment when Charon has reached a point mid-way between the channels opening on either side of the Styx. Each man, or in this case each human soul, is responsible for choosing their ultimate destination when the hour of death arrives. Patinir shows the soul in strict profile, with the face and body turned towards the easy path to perdition, indicating that the choice has been made.

This idea was expressed in the late Middle Ages by a whole range of metaphors, both biblical and classical. Out of all of them, Patinir appears to have taken his prime inspiration from St Matthew`s Gospel. There is no doubt that Patinir here reflects the pessimism of his turbulent times, with the Protestant Reformation gaining momentum after the appearance of Martin Luther`s Ninety-Five Theses in Wittenberg in 1517. Patinir thus converts this work into a memento mori, a reminder to all those who contemplate it that they must prepare for the moment of death, and that the hard road must be chosen in imitation of Christ, ignoring false paradises and deceitful temptations.

It is not known what prompted Patinir`s patron to commission a work like this from him, or where it was destined to hang. Evidently, though, it is not an altarpiece but a cabinet painting, proper to a milieu with humanist leanings. For want of a pre-existing model, the painter, no doubt aided by a client or mentor, took earlier representations of heaven and hell as sources for his paradise and purgatory. Those of Bosch in particular were decisive throughout the creative process and final execution. X-rays and infrared reflectograms reveal the changes undergone by his initial concept, which are quite plentiful in paradise, with its fantastic structures evoking Bosch`s Garden of Earthly Delights (Museo del Prado, P2823) and thereby giving the picture surface a much more Boschian appearance than the drawing. Even more important, however, are the changes made to Patinir`s purgatory, though the surface in this case owes less to Bosch than the underlying drawing. The gigantic demon visible from the bank is eliminated, and the foreground becomes a false paradise facing the reefs which obstruct the entrance to the true one. This balances the picture, expressing the idea of the soul at a crossroads in a more conceptually convincing way. Furthermore, when the painting is viewed as a whole, it is once again the landscape which predominates. Whether borrowings or evocations, the influences of Bosch are minimized by reducing the number of demons and damned souls, and by scaling them down in size -like the angels, the chosen ones and the animals in paradise- until they are barely perceptible in the background. Regarding authorship, both the drawing and the handling of the colour layer point to an autograph work executed by Patinir without collaborators, since the central figure of Charon displays the painter`s own characteristic hallmarks.

The exact chronology of the painting is difficult to determine. It doubtless belongs to the painter`s last period before his death, which almost certainly befell him in 1524. If we try to narrow the date down further, the characteristics of the drawing and the tremendous care taken over the surface execution suggest a date nearer the conclusion of Patinir`s middle period, since it has points in common with the later works from that phase. This would perhaps indicate a date of around 1520, and so probably earlier than the Landscape with the Temptation of St Anthony in the Prado (P1615) and the Landscape with St Christopher at El Escorial (Silva, P.: Patinir. Essays and critical catalogue, Museo Nacional del Prado, 2007, pp. 150-163).

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Technical data

Inventory number
P01616
Author
Patinir, Joachim
Title
Charon crossing the Styx
Date
1520 - 1524
Technique
Oil
Support
Panel
Dimension
High/Height: 64 cm.; Width: 103 cm.
Provenance
Royal Collection (probably collection of Felipe II; Real Alcázar, Madrid, cuarto bajo con ventana al Jardín de la Priora, 1636; saved from the fire of the Alcázar, 1734; Palacio del Buen Retiro, Madrid, 1789, nº 353).

Bibliography +

Inventario del Alcázar 1636-1666, II, Madrid, 1666.

Faure, Élie, Historia del arte, Editorial Poseidon, Buenos Aires, 1944, pp. 251.

Koch, Robert A., Joachim Patinir, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1968, pp. 41-43.

Cuttler, Charles D., Northern Painting. From Pucelle To Bruegel. Fourteenth, Fift, HoltRinehart and WinstonInc, Nueva York,Etc, 1968, pp. 426.

Franz, Heinrich Gerhard, Niederlandische Landschaftesmalerei in Zeitalter des Manieri, Akademische DruckU.Verlagsanstalt, Graz, 1969, pp. lám.22.

Magugliani, Lodovico, Introduzione a Giorgione e Alla Pittura Veneziana del Rinasc, Casa Editrice Ceschina, Milan, 1970, pp. lám.3.

Friedländer, Max J., Early netherlandish painting, A.W.Sijthoff, Leyden-Bruselas, 1972, pp. 242.

Onieva, Antonio J., La Mitologia en el Museo del Prado, Offo, Madrid, 1972, pp. 53.

Sánchez Cantón, Francisco Javier, Museo del Prado: catálogo de las pinturas, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1972.

Bermejo de la Rica, A., La Mitologia en el Museo del Prado, Editora Nacional, Madrid, 1974, pp. 203,204.

Pons, Maurice, Patinir Ou L'Harmonie du Monde, Robert Laffont, Paris, 1980, pp. 66.

Carroggio, Fernando, Historia del arte, CarroggioS.A., Barcelona, 1983, pp. 173.

Pierre, José., Introduction a la Peinture., Editions Aimery Somogy, 1985, pp. 31.

Pena, Mª Carmen, Paisaje español del siglo XIX. LA mirada renovada, LAPIZ: REVISTA INTERNACIONAL DE ARTE, 3, 1985, pp. 35.

Pérez Sánchez, Alfonso E., Museo del Prado: catálogo de las pinturas, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1985.

Pérez Sánchez, Alfonso E., Museo del Prado: catálogo de las pinturas, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1985, pp. 497.

Beruete, Aureliano de1845-1912, Velázquez, CEPSA, Madrid, 1987, pp. 13/ lám.8.

Hollander, Hans, Hieronimus Bosch. Weiltbilder Und Traumwerk, Dumont Buchverlag, Colonia, 1988, pp. 24.

Warma, Susanne Juliane, The Paintings of Giambettino Gignaroli (1706-1770), Umi, Bruselas, 1988, pp. 64.

Falkenburg, Reindert L., Joachim Patinir. Landscape As An Image of the Pilgrimage of, John Benjamins Publishing Company, Amsterdam.Filadelfia, 1988, pp. 102-109, 114-117/ lám.11.

Museo Nacional del Prado, La pintura flamenca en el Prado, IbercajaFonds Mercator, Amberes, 1989, pp. 71.

Doce artistas de vanguardia en el Museo del Prado:Saura, Bar, Mondadori, Madrid, 1990, pp. 197.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Museo del Prado: inventario general de pinturas, Museo del Prado, Espasa Calpe, Madrid, 1990, pp. nº1031.

Mirar Un Cuadro en el Museo del Prado, Lundwerg, Barcelona, 1991, pp. 59,59.

Bril, J., La Traversee Mythique Ou Le Fils Accompli, Editions Payot, Paris, 1991.

Buendía, José Rogelio1928-, El Prado. Colecciones de Pintura, Lunwerg Editores, Barcelona, 1994, pp. 383.

Alvarez Cabanas, A., Roger Van Der Weyden en el Museo del Prado, Imp.Helenica, Madrid, 1996, pp. 105.

Soto, Victoria, Describir jadines. Tópicos, imágenes e imaginación para el estudio de la jardinería filipina, REALES SITIOS: REVISTA DEL PATRIMONIO NACIONAL, 1997, pp. 23.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Pintura flamenca de los siglos XV y XVI: guía, Museo del PradoAldeasa, Madrid, 2001, pp. 178.

Silver, Larry, God in detail: Bosch and judgment, THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART BULLETIN, 59, 2001, pp. 627.

Enciclopedia del Museo del Prado, V, T.F. Editores: Fundación Amigos, Madrid, 2006, pp. 1683.

Harbison, Craig, El espejo del artista. : el arte del Renacimiento septentrio..., Akal, Madrid, 2007, pp. 164.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Patinir. Estudios y catálogo crítico, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2007, pp. 150-163.

Merot, Alain, Du paysage en peinture : dans l' Occident moderne, Gallimard, 2009, pp. 147.

Art in Spain and the Hispanic world : essays in honour of Jo..., Paul Holberton: Center for Spain, 2010, pp. 195-210.

Maderuelo, Javier, Joachim Patinir. El paso de la laguna Estigia, Abada, 2012.

Ed. Mena Marques, M, La belleza encerrada: de Fra Angelico a Fortuny, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2013, pp. 95.

Blanco, Miguel Angel, Historias naturales: un proyecto de Miguel Ángel Blanco, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2013, pp. 60-61 122.

Other inventories +

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1854-1858. Núm. 1031.

Inv. Real Museo, 1857. Núm. 1031.
Joaquin Patenier / 1031. Caronte, conduce en su barca un alma a los infiernos. / Se ve el angel de aquella alma reproba solo y triste en la orilla, y por el frondoso paisage discurren otras criaturas acompañadas de sus angeles. (tabla). / Alto 2 pies, 3 pulg, 6 lin; ancho 3 pies, 8 pulg.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1872-1907. Núm. 1524.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1910. Núm. 1616.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1933. Núm. 1616.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1942-1996. Núm. 1616.

Exhibitions +

El Bosco
Madrid
31.05.2016 - 11.09.2016

Historias Naturales
Madrid
19.11.2013 - 27.04.2014

Captive Beauty. Fra Angelico to Fortuny
21.05.2013 - 10.11.2013

Patinir
03.07.2007 - 07.10.2007

Location +

Room 056A (On Display)

Update date: 15-04-2016 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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