Dutch, 1562 – 1638

The Crucifixion Triptych, c. 1600

Oil on panel
47.25 x 33 x 16.5 in.

Collection of The Bass
Gift of John and Johanna Bass

Cornelis Cornelisz van Haarlem is known as one of the leading exponents of the late Dutch mannerist style. He was born in Haarlem in 1562 and received an early training in Amsterdam and Antwerp. In 1579 he stayed in France, which it was there that he absorbed the mannerist style of the School of Fountainebleau, and later returned to Haarlem in 1583 where he lived and worked to the end of his life. Cornelis was influenced by Bartholomeus Spranger, but from the 1590s he combined Spranger’s extreme mannerism with the new classicizing trends which were introduced by Hendrick Goltzius upon his return from Italy. It has been reported that Cornelis had founded a Haarlem Academy, together with Goltzius and Carel van Mander, for the purpose of drawing ‘from life.’ The three artists represent the Dutch Mannerism, with complex compositional works featuring nudes in twisted, intricate poses. Aside from his religious and mythological subjects, Cornelis also painted portraits, kitchen scenes, and still lifes.

Altarpieces in the form of a triptych or polyptych have a long tradition in sixteenth-century northern painting. A triptych from this period consists of a central panel with the major scene, and two hinged ‘wings’ with scenes related to the central theme. More usually the wings would remain closed displaying a painted scene on the back of each wing with subjects having an iconographic connection with the major theme of the central panel inside. In the case of The Crucifixion Triptych the combined wing depicts the Fall of Man which caused all mankind to be burdened with the guilt of sin. Fall of Man was previously painted by Cornelis in 1592 and is now at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

With the wings fully opened, the Crucifixion scene unfolds its poignant mystery with Christ’s radiant figure flanked by the two thieves dominating the scene. His face expresses a deep faith and devotion, transcending physical suffering and death while the faces of the soldiers equally express wonder and emotion rather than cruelty. The sponge-bearer, seen from behind on the right, and the swooning Virgin supported by the holy women with St. John, standing, on the left, complete the symmetrically balanced composition. Cornelis observed the tradition by which the good persons are placed on the Savior’s right (left to the viewer) and the evil ones on His left. All three panels are pictorially linked through the landscape background and the sky with its dramatic transition from bright daylight on the left to deep nocturnal gloom over the right. Here again light, symbol of salvation, is on Christ’s right, and dark (evil) on His left. The figures in the side panels are portraits of the donor’s families accompanied by their patron saints: on the left wing the male persons are protected by St. James, and on the right wing the female members of the family are presided over St. Apollonia, who holds a torch and her attribute, a pair of pincers. All the figures are seen in an attitude of