c. 1545-50; Oil on canvas, 145 x 133 cm; National Gallery, London
Christ carries his cross to Calvary which can be seen in the landscape at the upper left. He has fallen to the ground and Saint Veronica, who kneels to the right, holds out her veil to him. According to Veronica's legend, which is not related in the Bible, she wiped Christ's face with her veil (sudarium), and his features were miraculously imprinted on it. The name Veronica means true likeness ('vera ikon'). Behind her are the Virgin and Saint John.
Much of the impact of the composition derives from its dynamic organisation along the main diagonals. We 'enter' the scene from the bottom right corner, where Saint Veronica in her Venetian gown strains forward to wipe the sweat and blood off Christ's face; follow the lines of the wooden upright of the cross, Christ's body collapsed under the weight, the tormentor's brutal blows, to the furthest point in the upper left, where the executioner pulls on the rope around Christ's waist, urging him on to Golgotha in the distance. His windblown cloak picks up the red of Veronica's dress. Alternatively, we can scan the picture from upper right, from the mounted officers pointing to and discussing the events below; follow the wooden lance shaft to where John's green cloak, seized by a soldier, seems to flow around the head-dresses and shoulders of the Maries into Veronica's out-thrust veil. The Virgin's dark mantle isolates her as she stands, becalmed in the jostling crowd, wiping the tears from her eyes.
However we read the painting, we are inexorably drawn to Christ, crowned with thorns. Although his eyes turn to Veronica, his is the only figure depicted virtually in full face, the Man of Sorrows of devotional imagery.
The composition, like several others by Bassano, was inspired by an engraving after Raphael's version of the subject (Prado, Madrid).