This is a portable altar made of wood, the back of which is covered in old green velvet. The words "ANCHIETA el de navarra façiebat" (Anchieta from Navarre made me) inscribed in black ink and 16th-century lettering at the rear of the piece can be considered to be the artist's signature; furthermore, the altar was originally from Azpeitia, which enables us to attribute the sculpture to Juan de Anchieta. The work was perhaps a very special commission in which the artist was able to prove his skill in a small format, despite being accustomed to working on monumental groups such as those in the altarpieces of Briviesca, Zumaia, Cáseda, Burgos cathedral and Tafalla. After training with Antonio Martínez in Medina de Rioseco, Anchieta worked with Gaspar Becerra on the Astorga altarpiece and thus became familiar with the style of Michelangelo and with Roman sculpture. His contact with Juan de Juni in Valladolid enabled him to master a refined technique and a certain degree of emotional expressiveness. Anchieta settled in Pamplona in 1576, where he kept his workshop running until his death; therefore the words "from Navarre" in the inscription probably mean that he produced the work shortly after having moved to the capital.
The Calvary stands on a rocky ground beside three skulls. The bodies of Christ, Dimas and Gestas are precise anatomical studies. The frontal view of Christ forms a sharp contrast with the figures of the thieves who, like Michelangelo's Slaves, seem to twist into complementary positions in their attempts to free themselves from their ties. This group is related to the Calvary by Alonso Berruguete kept in the Museo Nacional de Escultura in Valladolid. The treatment of the nude body of Christ—very similar to that of other large Crucifixions such as those in Pamplona and Tafalla cathedrals—and its classical Michelangelesque quality prove that Anchieta tackled small-scale pieces just as he did monumental works. This point confirms that the Basque artist was behind this Calvary, a precise and masterly work by a Renaissance sculptor who cherished the nude. [M.C.G.G.]
María Concepción García Gaínza. "Sobre el Calvario firmado por Anchieta del Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao"en Urtekaria 1988 : asterlanak, albistak = Anuario 1988 : estudios, crónicas. Bilbao : Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao = Bilboko Arte Ederretako Museoa,1989, pp. 35-38.
Julián Gallego. Doce años de adquisiciones de arte antiguo = Hamabi urte antxinako artelanak erosten. Bilbao : Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao = Bilboko Arte Ederretako Museoa, 1993, n.º 14.
Pedro María Montero; Ignacio Cendoya. "Escultura de los siglos XVI al XVIII en el Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao"en Urtekaria 1992 : asterlanak, albistak = anuario 1992 : estudios, crónicas. Bilbao : Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao = Bilboko Arte Ederretako Museoa, 1993, pp. 73-129.
Juan Plazaola; Edorta Kortadi; María Concepción García Gaínza. Juan de Anchieta, eskultorea-escultor. Donostia-San Sebastián : Museo Diocesano, 1998, pp. 20-21.
María Concepción García Gaínza. Juan de Anchieta : escultor del renacimiento. Pamplona; Madrid : Gobierno de Navarra ; Fundación Arte Hispánico, 2008, pp. 165-166.
El esplendor del Renacimiento en Aragón. [Cat. exp.]. Zaragoza ; Bilbao ; Valencia : Gobierno de Aragón ; Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao = Bilboko Arte Ederretako Museoa ; Generalitat Valenciana, 2009, p. 263.
María Concepción García Gaínza. Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao : guía. Bilbao : Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao = Bilboko Arte Ederretako Museoa, 2011 (1ª ed. 2006; ed. inglés; ed. francés; ed. euskera), p. 43, n.º 29, ad vocem.