The story of Emperor Heraclius bearing the Cross in a procession is one of many themes of the vast iconographic programme related to Holy Cross. This work was executed for the immense retable of the Santa Cruz congregation in Coimbra and relates the story of the Emperor Constantine’s mother, Saint Helen, recovering the Holy Cross.
The Dominican, Jacobus de Voragine spread this theme in the West in ‘The Golden Legend’ (ca. 1275). The representation of the Emperor attempting to enter Jerusalem, sumptuously dressed and accompanied by his courtiers and riches, fits the characteristics of Court painting of the period. This is evident in the clothing and the gestures of the figures, portrayed as though they were in a contemporary scene from the auspicious reign of D. João III. The foreshortening of the figure in the foreground shows an awareness of the engravings of Dürer.