The Great Calvary in Cologne

Hubert van Eyck (1366–1426), Jan van Eyck (1390-1441), 1432 The Great Calvary. Photo and collection Museum Schnütgen.

One of the fascinating aspects of art and history is the unification of dispersed pieces of art, that once formed a single artefact. The relief of Ghent, designed by Hubert van Eyck (1366–1426) and finished by his brother Jan van Eyck (1390-1441) in 1432 endured the fate of history: almost destroyed by fire and iconoclast Calvinists, dismembered, stolen by Napoleon and during the second world war and one of its 12 panels was stolen in 1934.
The relief the Great Calvary (der grosse Kalvarienberg) at the Schnütgen museum in Cologne is another example. The relief was originally the central piece of an altar shrine, one of the highest qualities of Burgundian Netherlandish sculpture from the first half of the fifteenth century. The crucifixion scene with the riders and soldiers has been in possesion of the museum since 1965. The acquisition of the missing mourning women in 2012 has shed new light on the meaning of the composition that refers to the historical event as it is described in the Gospels and later accounts of the Passion. The complete composition shows the different reactions of those present at this fateful moment in history. The two criminals on the left and right side of Jezus, the pain and suffering of Mother Maria and her two sisters and Magdalene, the emotions of other figures and their (Holy Land) costume, the good centurion, the sponge soaked with vinegar, the rider who pierced Jesus with a lance and two groups of soldiers, one full of emotion, the other preoccupied with themselves. Although the relief is situated in a museum (a church complex) nowadays, the relief didn´t loose its imaginative and emotional power. (Source: M. Woelk, The Great Calvary at Museum Schnütgen, Cologne, 2013).