JUAN DE BORGOÑA AND WORKSHOP

Calvary with the Mass of St. Gregory

Oil on panel
80 x 58,5 cm
Toledo, c. 1525-1535

Provenance: Madrid, private collection

The work before us here is a Calvary with the Mass of St Gregory, which Isabel Mateo has attributed to Juan de Borgoña and his workshop[1]. The composition is presided over by a crucified Christ, crowned by a gold nimbus. His inert and emaciated body presents clear signs of punishment, prominent among which are the bloody nail holes and the wounds caused by the crown of thorns. Two angels are seen collecting the blood pouring from his wounds and over his body in chalices, heightening the Eucharistic message of the scene. Jesus is wearing a somewhat transparent perizonium with elegant folds, fastened in a knot on his right hip. He is flanked by two groups of individuals on both sides of the cross. To our left we can see the Virgin Mary, about to faint, held up by St. John the Evangelist, while Mary Magdalene is seen kneeling and holding onto the cross. Behind the Mother of Christ, we see two of the Maries and, next to them, Longinus, who is resting his spear on his shoulder and holding his hands together in prayer. To the rear, a centurion with an elegant helmet and seen in profile is gazing towards the crucified figure while bearing a banner reading SPQR.

On the other side of the cross we find three more figures. A centurion with helmet, gold armour and slashed breeches is pointing at Christ in recognition that he is the Son of God. Next to him is the Veronica, in profile, who is holding the cloth bearing the face of Jesus on it. And there is also a second soldier, this time wearing a metal suit of armour with powerful and beautiful reflections. Golgotha has been depicted as a particularly arid and unwelcoming place, but what is most noteworthy is the inclusion of an extremely unusual iconographic element, a sort of hermitage or oratory located between rocky outcrops on the upper right-hand side of the composition, where St. Gregory is pictured officiating mass accompanied by two acolytes. Finally, the sky has been soberly and neutrally depicted using a range of blue tones.

The composition draws on the model created at the heart of Juan de Borgoña’s workshop in Toledo, the leading example of which is the Calvary currently preserved at the Faculty of Law at Madrid’s Complutense University.[2] This is the origin of the two angels who are flying around the cross, while the profiled Mary on the left of our panel is reminiscent of the St. John the Evangelist from the Complutense Calvary. There are also several works featuring the centurion pictured from the front and pointing to Christ. Juan de Borgoña popularized this type of soldier with gold breastplates and slashed breeches, and would once again portray a similar figure in his Resurrection on the lost stations of the cross from the cloisters of San Juan de la Penitencia in Toledo[3]. With regard to the figure of the Virgin, ours resembles one that appears in a dismembered Calvary housed between the Musée du Louvre and the Museo del Prado[4]. Mary’s pose and body language, as well as the angels collecting Christ’s blood, are returned to in another work by Juan de Borgoña and his workshop, the Calvary from the Manuel González collection (Madrid)[5]. Returning to the Louvre/Prado panels, the model for the Virgin was not the only parallel, as the female figure on the far left of our panel is an exact match for the profiled Virgin from the Louvre fragment. Meanwhile, the Mary who is holding onto the Mother of God’s arm presents a face and tilt of the head that are identical to that of St. John the Evangelist.

This Calvary model was subsequently adapted by Juan de Borgoña’s followers and collaborators, such as Juan Correa de Vivar and Francisco and Antonio de Comontes. A Calvary by the latter survives in the Rudolf Gerstenmaier collection, with interesting links to the panel we are studying here, although of an inferior quality[6]. Mary’s position is similar once more, while we once again find a centurion in tight breeches pointing at Christ, on this occasion pictured in profile. We also ought to mention Antonio de Comontes’ Calvary housed in the Museo Nacional de Escultura in Valladolid, and originally from the monastery of the Mejorada, in Olmedo (Valladolid)[7], where the soldier is once again depicted in profile and holding a banner reading SPQR, like in the Gerstenmaier panel, whereas in our panel the standard is being held aloft by the mounted centurion.

We should not forget that Comontes was Borgoña’s most loyal follower in Toledo, and that they undertook a number of joint commissions, such as the altarpiece for the church of San Andrés de Toledo (1513), which survives to this day, and which appears to have been executed by Comontes on his own[8].These links would explain the existence of such close parallels between works attributed to Borgoña and workshop, and those associated with Comontes. In the Calvary we are studying here, these links between one artist and another coalesce in the Mass of St. Gregory towards the top, whose central figure is directly reminiscent of two that appear in another panel from the Gerstenmaier collection and attributed to Comontes, the Last Communion of St. Benedict[9].

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] This is recorded in an unpublished report the Galería Bernat commissioned from said author.

[2] Mateo 2004, p. 120.

[3] Mateo 2004, p. 153.

[4] Mateo 2004, p. 130.

[5] Mateo 2004, p. 132.

[6] Velasco 2018e.

[7] Mateo 2001.

[8] Mateo 2004, p. 100; Pascual-Fiz 2015, pp. 73-78.

[9] Velasco 2018f.