1596 - Antwerp - 1652/3
The woodcut shows one of the 39 ceiling paintings in the Jesuit Church in Antwerp. They were commissioned in 1620 and the contract explicitly required Rubens to provide oil sketches in his own hand (while the final paintings might be executed by his assistants). The paintings were completely destroyed by fire in 1718. The compositions served as models for three prints from Rubens’s workshop, including his own etching of St. Catherine; Jegher’s Coronation of the Virgin; and the present woodcut. The oil sketch showing the scene of Christ’s temptation, formerly in the collection of Count Seilern, is now at the Courtauld Gallery in London. It is most likely that Rubens gave Jegher this (or a similar) oil sketch as model since it is much closer to the woodcut than the engravings that record the completed paintings.
As was generally the case with the woodcuts, Rubens was closely, even overwhelmingly involved in their creation. As Peter Parshall has observed: “If there was a psychotherapist in Antwerp who specialized in blockcutting anxiety, then Jegher must have been his best patient” (exhibition review “Rubens and the Woodcut,” in: Print Quarterly, vol. 22, 2005, pp. 466–472, here p. 471). Corrections in oil and ink on an impression of the Temptation of Christ in the Bibliothèque nationale in Paris prove his point. Rubens clearly saw the woodcuts as works of art in their own right rather than as mere reproductions. “The paintings were to be seen from a distance, and the simpler the image, the bolder the impact on the viewer. For the woodcut, however, Rubens could elaborate all the passages he had to simplify. The rocks and gnarled trees behind Christ are enlarged in proportion and drawn with rich profusion of detail” (Mary L. Myers, “Rubens and the Woodcuts of Christoffel Jegher,” in: The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, summer 1966, pp. 7–23, here p. 21).