Do you know Landscape with Charon Crossing the Styx by Joachim Patinir?

Gilles Farina
Publié le 5 May 2023
Do you know Landscape with Charon Crossing the Styx by Joachim Patinir?

The artist who painted this picture is known for his depictions of river landscapes. Landscape with Charon Crossing the Styx was painted by Joachim Patinir in 1520. Do you know its meaning? Museum TV explains everything about this evocative painting... Before you start, here are the different names of the painting exhibited at the Prado Museum in Madrid: Crossing the Underworld, Landscape with Charon's Boat, Charon Crossing the Styx, Crossing the Styx

Hell or Heaven?

This representation is a fusion between a Greco-Roman scene and a Christian religious painting. The theme is religious, since the work evokes the path that, in the afterlife, takes souls to heaven or hell. But the representation of this divine choice is illustrated here with images that belong to ancient beliefs. Starting with the great river at the centre of the painting: the Styx.

 Crossing the Styx
Crossing the Styx

In Greek mythology, it is seen as the point of passage that leads the dead to the afterlife. The man pushing the boat in the middle is Charon. This unkempt-looking mythological figure decides whether the soul he is carrying will go to hell or heaven. He can go to the left, to the long winding road that leads to heaven. The painter has installed angels, deer, unicorns and also idyllic orchards. A fountain dominates the scene, the fountain of life from which human existence springs.

Joachim Patinier by Cornelis Cort

Charon can also go to the right. Towards that sinister and fiery landscape that is hell. We see demons martyring souls. We also see, at the gates of this dark universe, a strange creature. It is Cerberus, the three-headed dog. The mythological beast prevents the dead from escaping from the underworld.

With this mixture of genres, the painter creates a suspenseful painting. Where will the passenger on Charon's boat end up? It's up to everyone to finish the scenario that the painting started... Finally, as late as possible!

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