Joachim Patinir - Landscape with Charon Crossing the Styx

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Landscape with Charon Crossing the Styx
Joachim Patinir (Flemish, ca. 1484-1520)
oil on panel, 64x103 cm. (25,2x40,6 in)
Prado Museum, Madrid

Patinir is often considered the first landscape painter in the history of art, although we should specify: "in the history of Western art", paying respect to the great Chinese landscape painters of the Song Dynasty. Also, it should be pointed out that Patinir’s landscapes are actually religious-themed works, although the presence and quality of the landscape is often so high that it is virtually impossible to pay attention to any other element in the painting. In any case, his landscapes –admired by the great Albrecht Dürer- had an important influence in the great Flemish and Dutch landscape painters of the following century.

"Landscape with Charon Crossing the Styx" is Patinir’s most famous and original work. It depicts a classic subject from the Aeneid (Virgil) and Inferno (Dante), in which Charon (the central figure in the painting) ferries a human soul who must decide between heaven and hell.

Although the painting is a single panel, it shows a somewhat "triptychal" composition that clearly reminds the famous “The Garden of Earthly Delights” by Hieronymus Bosch, a work that Patinir knew well. As in the work by Bosch, the observer can see the landscape of Eden on the left (including the Fountain of Paradise) and the frightening Hell on the right side, which is accessed through a door guarded by Cerberus , the mythical three-headed dog.

Despite its large size, the work is rich in details. Heaven is populated by swans, peacocks, small deers and figures of angels, one of which tries to draw the attention of the soul that travels in the boat. Hell is full of grotesque creatures in the style of those by Hieronymus Bosch. The use of color is typical of the works of the period, moving from the greens of the foreground to the pale blue tones of the background.

G. Fernández -

Patinir and Bosch

"Landscape with Charon Crossing the Styx" compared with Bosch's “The Garden of Earthly Delights”.

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