Christ Carrying the Cross
Pierre Mignard French
Not on view
After first training with the mannerist painter Jean Boucher de Bourges at the age of twelve, Pierre Mignard entered Vouet’s studio in Paris in 1630, where he would stay until 1634, before leaving for Rome the year after. In a sojourn that lasted over twenty years, Mignard studied the works of the masters of the High Renaissance and the Carracci school and developed his natural facility for portraiture. In the second half of the 17th century, he would become one of the most significant protagonists of classicism in France, his elegantly crafted history paintings reflecting the influence of his extended stay in Italy. After engaging for decades in a fierce rivalry with Charles Le Brun, the death in 1683 of Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Le Brun’s backer, cleared the way for Mignard to receive royal commissions. Mignard was finally granted the positions of Premier Peintre and director of the Académie royale following Le Brun’s death in 1690.
This highly detailed compositional study is for Mignard’s Christ Carrying the Cross (Musée du Louvre, Paris). Completed in 1684, the canvas was widely acclaimed by contemporary writers and entered the collection of Louis XIV as a gift of Colbert’s son, the Marquis de Seigneley. Mignard must have been pleased with the orchestration of the complex composition in this large red chalk study, for he squared the sheet for transfer, although certain details would ultimately be changed. In the painting, a mother and child replace the seated male onlooker pointing towards Christ in the foreground, the figure of Veronica kneeling before Christ is omitted, and the young man leading the procession has disappeared while three running children have been added.
Despite the large number of figures, the complex composition is rendered with clarity. The way to Calvary is portrayed with all the vigor characteristic of Mignard’s works. The tragic dimension of the scene is conveyed by the attitudes and facial expressions of the figures, progressing from fear and terror to pain. In the background, Golgotha, the site of Christ’s crucifixion, dominates the rolling landscape. This ambitious sheet with its beautiful figure groupings recalling Italian prototypes, represents an advanced stage of planning for one of Mignard’s greatest works.