This is one of three scenes from the predella of Raphael’s Colonna Altarpiece painted for the convent of S. Antonio da Padua in Perugia. The Procession to Calvary was the central scene of the predella, positioned below the main panel of the altarpiece.
Christ looks to us as he carries the Cross, helped by Simon of Cyrene and escorted by five foot soldiers. The Virgin Mary is supported by the Three Marys and accompanied by Saint John the Evangelist, who wrings his hands in grief. The three distinct groups of the procession are linked together by a rhythm of repeated colour and by the figures who look back over their shoulders at the groups behind.
Several of the figures show the influence of other artists, including Leonardo, Filippino Lippi and Justus of Ghent, demonstrating how Raphael was assimilating different approaches and ideas into his own developing style during this early period of his career.
This is one of three scenes from the predella of Raphael’s Colonna Altarpiece, painted for the convent of S. Antonio da Padua in Perugia and named after the Colonna family in Rome who once owned it. The main panel of the altarpiece depicted the Virgin and Child enthroned with saints (Peter, Paul, Catherine and another female martyr). At the top of the altarpiece was a lunette showing God the Father blessing, flanked by two angels with scrolling ribbons similar to those in Raphael’s earlier Mond Crucifixion. The panel and lunette are both in the Metropolitan Museum, New York.
The Procession to Calvary was the central scene of the predella, positioned below the main panel of the altarpiece. Christ looks to us as he carries the Cross, escorted by five foot soldiers, one of whom drags him by a rope round his waist. Simon of Cyrene, behind Christ, helps him bear the weight of the Cross. The Virgin Mary, in dark robes at the far left, is supported by the Three Marys and accompanied by Saint John the Evangelist, who wrings his hands in grief. The three distinct groups of the procession are linked together by a pattern of repeated colour and by the figures who look back over their shoulders at the groups behind.
We can see Raphael’s interest in the work of other artists in this small panel. The turbaned horseman and rearing white horse behind him reveal his knowledge of Leonardo’s unfinished fresco, The Battle of Anghiari, after which he had made a sketch (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford). The procession with all its diversity may indicate Raphael’s knowledge of an engraving of the same subject by the German artist Martin Schongauer. Another predella panel by Raphael, Saint John the Baptist Preaching, takes further the variety of costume and colour, and emphasis on rhythm and pattern, to add structure and interest to a crowd scene. The group of the Virgin supported by the Three Marys was inspired by figures in a Deposition scene for the high altar of SS. Annunziata, Florence, begun by Filippino Lippi and completed by Perugino after Filippino’s death in 1504. The pose of Raphael’s Christ was inspired by the work of Justus van Ghent, who had worked at the court in Urbino where Raphael’s father, Giovanni Santi, had been court painter.
The Procession to Calvary was originally flanked on the left by The Agony in the Garden (Metropolitan Museum, New York), and on the right by the Pietà (Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston). The scenes were originally painted on a single plank of wood that was cut into three when the predella was sold. Two smaller panels showing Franciscan saints completed the predella.
Although some have since criticised the Colonna Altarpiece as an awkward blend of styles and influences, at the time of its making it received the highest praise. The predella scenes demonstrate Raphael’s growing talent for narrative and for drawing out a poignant human dimension in biblical stories.
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