Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal Antwerpen - www.artinflanders.be - Hugo Maertens

The Elevation of the Cross

Peter Paul Rubens, 1610 — 1611
Cathedral of Our Lady, Antwerp

In this work we see muscles flexing with the power of a thunderhead. The man at the center of the triptych seems illuminated from within, his facial expression belying his physical strength. There is a potent dialectic at work here: overwhelming power and fear, calm and horror, the sense that we are witnesses to a narrative that implies both end and beginning. What is at stake must be a matter of colossal importance.

Rubens´s art leads us away from specific content towards universal categories. The sense of physical energy in this painting is palpable and implies the possibility of plenitude. The emotional gap that exists between the transcendental gaze of the central figure and the physical effort of those surrounding him is painful – it symbolizes divides that cannot be bridged.

It has become common to look for proximity and empowerment in art. In my personal experience of his works, Rubens offers us something different and equally important: a vantage point from which we can travel great distances, into a remote world and way of thinking.

Alejandro Vergara, Senior Curator of Flemish and Northern European Painting, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

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Podcast 'Rubens' (ep. 3)

Leen Huet on Rubens in Antwerp (9 mins, in Dutch)

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