The itinerary <em>TITULORECORRIDO</em> has been successfully created. Now you can add in works from the Collection browser
<em>TITULOOBRA</em> added to <em>TITULORECORRIDO</em> itinerary

Charon crossing the Styx
Patinir, Joachim
Close Continuar a ficha de la obra

Patinir, Joachim

Dinant (Belgium), 1480 - Antwerp, 1524

See author's file

Charon crossing the Styx

1520 - 1524. Oil on panel.
Room 055A

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).


Technical data

Inventory number
Patinir, Joachim
Charon crossing the Styx
1520 - 1524
Height: 64 cm; Width: 103 cm
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, Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Nueva York, 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.

Salas, Xavier de, 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.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Catálogo de las pinturas, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1985, pp. 497.

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.

Beruete, Aureliano de, Velázquez, Cepsa, Madrid, 1987, pp. 13/ lám.8.

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

Falkenburg, Reindert L., Joachim Patinir. Landscape as an image of the pilgrimage of life, John Benjamins Publishing Company, Amsterdam. Filadelfia, 1988, pp. 102-109, 114-117/ lám.11.

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

Balis, A (dir.), La pintura flamenca en el Prado, Ibercaja Fonds 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 (I) La Colección Real, Museo del Prado, Espasa Calpe, Madrid, 1990, pp. nº1031.

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

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

Buendía, José Rogelio, 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.

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

Silva Maroto, Pilar, Pintura flamenca de los siglos XV y XVI: guía, Museo del Prado, Aldeasa, Madrid, 2001, pp. 178.

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.

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

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

Martínez Leiva, Gloria; Rodríguez Rebollo, Ángel, El inventario del Alcázar de Madrid de 1666. Felipe IV y su colección artística, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, Madrid, 2015, pp. 472 nº 666.

Pérez Preciado, J. J., "Antes morir que discutir". Sobre las atribuciones históricas de lapintura neerlandesa antigua en el Museo del Prado (1912-33), Boletín del Museo del Prado, XXXVII (55-57), 2019-2021, pp. 190-211 [208].

Other inventories +

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, 1854-1858. Núm. 1031.

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.

Inscriptions +

Inscribed in red color. Front, lower left corner

Exhibitions +

06.06.2020 - 25.07.2021

El Bosco
31.05.2016 - 11.09.2016

Historias Naturales
19.11.2013 - 27.04.2014

Captive Beauty. Fra Angelico to Fortuny
21.05.2013 - 10.11.2013

03.07.2007 - 07.10.2007

Location +

Room 055A (On Display)


Displayed objects +

Transport, Maritime / Transport, River

Update date: 18-01-2023 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

Other works by Patinir, Joachim

Prado Shop

Print on demand

Print artworks available in our catalogue in high quality and your preferred size and finish.

Image archive

Request artworks available in our catalogue in digital format.