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Christ on the Way to Calvary
Titian (Tiziano Vecellio)
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Titian (Tiziano Vecellio)

Pieve di Cadore, Belluno, Veneto (Italy), 1490 - Venice (Italy), 1576

Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) See author's file

Christ on the Way to Calvary

Ca. 1560. Oil on canvas.
Room 043

The Museo del Prado has two paintings of this Gospel episode (Matthew 27: 32-33; Mark 21-22; Luke 23: 26-27) which narrates how Simon of Cyrene had to carry the cross for the exhausted Christ on the way to Golgotha. Although they were painted only five years apart, the paintings show obvious stylistic and conceptual differences.

The earlier of the two (P439) has stronger narrative drive and shows Christ´s fall more explicitly: on his knees, he rests his left hand on a stone signed with the artist´s name. The painting is so dirty that it is difficult make out the composition, which appears as a frieze silhouetted against a neutral background. However, a careful analysis reveals the existence of at least three planes: the foreground with Christ and Simon of Cyrene, a middle-ground, and a background in which we can make out Golgotha and a faint reflection of evening light. Despite its undoubted drama, the action takes place independently of the viewer who is a mere witness to the exchange of gazes between Christ and Simon. In the second version the narrative character has been reduced and the drama of the event heightened through the use of a close-up foreground which is rare within Titian´s oeuvre. The closeness of Christ and Simon, situated on either side of the diagonal formed by the cross, increases the emotional effect of the scene, emphasised by the gaze that Christ, with the rope around his neck, casts towards the spectator, his eyes bloodshot and tearful. Although unusual in Titian, this treatment had precedents in Venetian painting which he must have been familiar with, such as the Christ carrying the Cross by Altobello Mellone (about 1515) in London (National Gallery), and above all the Christ carrying the Cross by Lorenzo Lotto of 1526 (Paris, Louvre) which features a diagonal cross and Christ in the foreground, his eyes filled with tears.

The X-radiograph of Christ on the Way to Calvary shows that the figure of Simon of Cyrene originally wore a turban tied at the nape of the neck and also that the cross may not have rested on the ground but was rather held up by the two figures, as indicated by the fact that Christ´s right hand was initially higher and situated below the vertical shaft of the cross, while Simon´s right hand, now no longer visible, supported it at the level of Christ´s waist. This change is not only important for the composition (explaining the unusual but dramatic size of the normally short arm of the cross), but also for the narrative, justifying the different title of the two paintings in the catalogue of the Museo del Prado.

Christ on the Way to Calvary entered the Escorial in 1574 and hung in a privileged place in Philip II´s private oratory. Siguenza described it as de devotísima y singular figura, stating that at night the devout King Philip would spend lengthy periods there, meditating on how much he owed to Christ who bore such a heavy weight on his shoulders for the sins of man and his sin. The painting is of outstanding quality. It remained in the Escorial until it entered the Museo del Prado in 1845 (Text drawn from Falomir, M.: Tiziano, Museo Nacional del Prado, 2003, pp. 402-403).

Falomir Faus, Miguel, Tiziano, Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado, 2003, p.266-269


Technical data

Related artworks

Cristo camino del Calvario
Phototype on card, After 1905
Hauser y Menet
Inventory number
Titian (Tiziano Vecellio)
Christ on the Way to Calvary
Ca. 1560
Height: 98 cm; Width: 116 cm
Royal Collection (Real Monasterio de El Escorial, Madrid)

Bibliography +

Inventario Real Palacio de Madrid 1734, VI, Madrid, 1734.

Fischel, Oskar, Tizian, Deutsche Verlags, Stuttgar/Leipzing, 1907, pp. 167.

Beroqui, P., Tiziano en el Museo del Prado, Boletin de la Sociedad española de excursiones, 35, 1927, pp. 192.

Suida, W, Le Titien, Weber, Paris, 1935, pp. lám. 272b.

Beroqui, P, Tiziano en el Museo del Prado, Hauser y Menet, Madrid, 1946, pp. 166.

Wethey, Harold E., The paintings of Titian, Phaidon, Londres, 1969.

Pallucchini, Rodolfo, Tiziano, I, G.C. Sansoni, Florencia, 1969, pp. lám. 515.

Cagli, Corrado, La obra pictórica completa de Tiziano, Noguer, Barcelona, 1971.

Salas, Xavier de, Museo del Prado. Catálogo de las pinturas, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1972.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Museo del Prado: pintura italiana anterior a 1600, Gredos, Madrid, 1979, pp. 129-130 y 183.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Catálogo de las pinturas, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1985, pp. 706-707.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Museo del Prado. Inventario general de pinturas (I) La Colección Real, Museo del Prado, Espasa Calpe, Madrid, 1990, pp. nº2939.

Ruiz Gómez, Leticia, Catálogo de las colecciones históricas de pintura veneciana, Editorial Patrimonio Nacional, Madrid, 1991, pp. 71.

Checa Cremades, Fernando, Tiziano y la monarquía hispánica: usos y funciones de la pintura veneciana en España (siglos XVI y XVII), Nerea, Madrid, 1994, pp. 70; 253-254, n. 17.

Bettagno, Alessandro, El Museo del Prado, Fonds Mercator Fundación Amigos del Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1996, pp. 216.

Checa Cremades, F, Un príncipe del Renacimiento: Felipe II, un monarca y su ép..., Sociedad Estatal para la Commemoración de los cent..., Madrid, 1998, pp. 442.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Pintura italiana del Renacimiento: guía, Museo del Prado, Aldeasa, Madrid, 1999, pp. 184.

Falomir Faus, Miguel, Tiziano, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2003, pp. 266-269.

Botticelli to Titian: two centuries of italian masterpieces, Szépmuvészeti Múzeum, Budapest, 2009, pp. 314-315.

Baker-Bates, Piers, Art and ideology at Juste, Hispanic research journal, Vol. 14 n.5, 2013, pp. 427-445 [437].

Checa Cremades, Fernando, 'Cose piccole di pittura' Las miniaturas del Passionarium de Felipe II y el scriptorium escurialense., Reales Sitios, Año L. cuarto trimestre, 2013, pp. 4-39 [32 fg.19].

Checa Cremades, Fernando, De El Bosco a Tiziano: arte y maravilla en El Escorial, Patrimonio Nacional, Madrid, 2013, pp. 235, n.143.

García-Frías Checa, Carmen, 'De la grandeza y variedad de la pintura que hay en esta casa' La colección pictórica de Felipe II en El Monasterio de El Escorial, De El Bosco a Tiziano: arte y maravilla en El Escorial, Patrimonio Nacional, Madrid, 2013, pp. 35-51 [43].

Saénz de Miera, Jesús, 'Desengañar al vulgo y más que vulgo' y escribir para 'gente que repara poco en lo que mira' Felipe de Guevara, Fray José de Sigüenza y los Boscos de El Escorial, De El Bosco a Tiziano: arte y maravilla en El Escorial, Patrimonio Nacional, Madrid, 2013, pp. 53-63 [62].

Checa Cremades, Fernando, Tiziano y las cortes del Renacimiento, Marcial Pons Historia, 2013, pp. 435 f.61.

Bracken, Susan, 'Charles I and the art of Italy in Spain' En:, Actas del Congreso internacional: Las copias de las obras maestras de la pintura en las colecciones de los Austrias y el Museo del Prado. Junio 2017, Madrid, 2021, pp. 161-176 [173 f.3].

Other inventories +

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1854-1858. Núm. 1988.

Inv. Real Museo, 1857. Núm. 2939.
2939. Caida de nº Señor con la cruz y ayudado p.r el cirineo. Ticiano. / Alto 3 pies, 6 pulg; ancho 4 pies, 2 pulg.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1910. Núm. 439.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1942-1996. Núm. 439.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1872-1907. Núm. 488.

Inscriptions +

· I · B · / · TITIANVS ·
Signed. Front, lower left corner

Front, lower right corner

Front, lower right corner

Exhibitions +

De El Bosco a Tiziano. Arte y Maravilla en El Escorial
16.09.2013 - 12.01.2014

Botticelli to Titian. Two Centuries of Italian Masterpieces. Budapest
28.10.2009 - 14.02.2010

10.06.2003 - 07.09.2003

Location +

Room 043 (On Display)


Displayed objects +

Objects from Christ's Passion

Update date: 03-09-2022 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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