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The Elevation of the Cross

Artist: Peter Paul Rubens
Created: 1610-11
Dimensions (cm): 341.0 x 462.0
Format: Central panel of triptych altarpiece
Location: Cathedral of our Lady, Antwerp, Belgium

The Elevation of the Cross

Famous artist Peter Paul Rubens painted ‘The Elevation of the Cross’ as the center panel of a triptych in approximately 1610. The altarpiece was created for St. Walpurgis Church (demolished in 1817). The painting, in its entirety, is a breathtaking view of the raising of the cross with distraught mourners on the left panel, and a roman officer on horseback overseeing the crucification of the two thieves on the right panel. The center panel represents a disturbing image of Jesus Christ crucified, being lifted by nine executioners working together to place the heavy cross into an upright position. The background is a dark, dismal sky. Rubens’ masterful use of color illuminates Christ’s pale body and throws sharp shadows along the muscles of the executioners. The details in the clothing and the facial expressions in ‘The Elevation of the Cross’ reveal much of what the artist had learned while in Italy, allowing this particular painting to become the manifesto of a new style in the northern regions, Baroque.


In 1794, the painting was seized by the French and taken to Paris. Following Napoleon’s defeat, it was returned to Antwerp and placed in the Cathedral of Our Lady. Layers of varnish that caused a greyish veil across the whole painting were removed during its restoration in the 1980’s. This process not only revealed the significant intensity of the emotions displayed by the figures in the scene, but also sharpened the colors and details of the painting.

Quotes by Peter Paul Rubens

“My talent is such that no undertaking, however vast in size... has ever surpassed my courage.”

“Every child has the spirit of creation. The rubbish of life often exterminates the spirit through plague and a soul’s own wretchedness.”

‘The Elevation of the Cross’ by Peter Paul Rubens is currently located at the Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp, Belgium.


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