Road to Calvary with St. Veronica (1510/20) by Antwerp, BelgiumMilwaukee Art Museum
This large sculptural group was originally part of a retable, or much bigger sculpted altarpiece, that would have had more figures and narratives within it. A retable was placed behind the main altar of a church; today, historians do not know where the rest of this retable is.
Christ encounters Saint Veronica as he carries the cross on the road to Calvary, where he will be crucified. This sculpture shows the Christian legend of her story.
Saint Veronica holds up a cloth for Christ to wipe the perspiration from his face.
As legend goes, Jesus accepted the offering and, after using it, returned the cloth, which was miraculously imprinted with his likeness. The veil is also known as a sudarium, which is Latin for “sweat cloth.”
The cross Christ carries is the one on which he will be crucified. Catholic retables often showed the different episodes from the Passion of Christ (the final days of his life before the resurrection). The crucifixion itself would have been at the center of the retable.
Roman soldiers accompany Christ along a route known as the Via Dolorosa, which will take him to the site of his crucifixion.
Although the sculpture is primarily made of wood, the breastplate on this soldier has fine detailing in gold and polychrome (a wax-based pigment, or color).
The high quality of the sculpture’s craftsmanship speaks to the work of carvers, designers, gilders, and carpenters—the many expert hands employed in a workshop.
The Saint Veronica figure in this sculpture also appears as a Mary Magdalene figure in other retables. Workshops often reused designs, especially those of successful works.
This small icon of a splayed hand is the hallmark of a carvers’ workshop that was based in Antwerp, Belgium (then part of the Netherlands).
During this period, the 1500s, the Catholic Spanish controlled Antwerp, making these retables especially popular both at home and for export to other Spanish territories.
Road to Calvary with St. Veronica, 1510/20
Polychromed and gilded oak
30 × 51 1/2 × 12 1/2 in. (76.2 × 130.81 × 31.75 cm)
Gift of Richard and Erna Flagg
Photographer credit: John Nienhuis