Bad Boys – The Bearing of the Cross

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Bad Boys
The Men Who Saw Art and Chose To Change It
Curated by Gabrielle Fenaroli

Pieter Bruegel, The Bearing of the Cross, 1564
Usually when I’ve encountered painting involving Jesus it has never been a round of Where’s Waldo trying to find him. However, Pieter Bruegel the Elder likes to make his viewer work for the prize in his 1564 piece The Bearing of the Cross. Our eyes scan the image as we gaze over each part as not to linger on one place too long. So many different scenes transpire before our eyes, and if we are not careful, it becomes easy to lose ourselves with the endless possibilities. We could be drawn to the right hand corner to four figures that appear still and larger than the rest. The draping of the oversize blue veil makes it clear the woman is the Holy Virgin Mary. She appears with a sickly complexion and in a position of utter defeat and loss. Many scenes depict Mary weeping with her companions, but this is not a depiction of the Deposition of Pieta. Christ is nowhere near them, and their sorrow intensifies with the sense of isolation and separation. So where is Christ?

Maybe you eventually see him because of white stag standing almost dead center of the painting. If not you eventually come to realize that the tiny outline of Christ covered in blue, is crushed beneath the weight of the cross. He staggers to find his footing after he has fallen. It seems odd that Bruegel has chosen to paint Chris so small, and it almost makes viewers ashamed that they did not recognize him earlier. Instead of giving us the image right away, Bruegel allows the viewer some freedom in tracing the journey and creating the narrative. The viewer can continue to search around the painting but cannot forget what they’ve seen in the middle.

What makes the canvas a landmark is the ability Bruegel gives to the viewer to make mistakes. He refuses to give the public an image they will automatically know and recognize. In creating a piece with so much chaos and action he allows for moments of reflection and thought. He does manage to make a point in portraying the Spanish army as those dressed in scarlet that are clearly oppressing Christ. At the time there was a great repression of Protestants and terror was widespread throughout the Netherlands. Bruegel does a phenomenal job of mixing the past with the present and once again creating a bridge for the public to connect with divine.

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