A 15th century Triptych Acquired by the Boijmans Museum

29/8/13 - Acquisition - Rotterdam, Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum - The collection at the Boijmans Museum was enriched in July 2013 with the addition of an anonymous triptych, probably painted in Bruges around 1410, illustrating The Lamentation, surrounded by Saint Anthony and Saint John the Baptist.

Saint Anthony
Panel - 31 x 12.8 cm

The Lamentation Triptych
Bruges ?, c. 1410-1420
Panel - 31 x 31.9 cm

Saint John the Baptist
Panel - 31 x 12.8 cm

The work belonged to a private Italian collector who had lent it for the exhibition "Chemin vers Van Eyck" organized by the museum between October 2012 and February 2013, presenting a panaroma of painting between the late Middle Ages and the art of Jan van Eyck. It was finally purchased by the Boijmans Museum, with funding from several public and private foundations [1].

This triptych is still in the International Gothic style. The figures are painted against a gold background ; however, their faces and gestures express their suffering : a holy woman lays a hand on her cheek, Saint John is holding Mary while she embraces her Son, pressing her face to His, Mary Magdalene is kissing Christ’s hand while His body, placed on a diagonal line cuts through the space. The figures do not form part of the landscape shown at the right of the composition : behind Golgotha, we see no doubt the New Jerusalem. The painter includes many small anecdotal details - the nails and pliers, which are found usually in the iconography for The Descent from the Cross, the bags of herbs for the embalming, the strange animals moving away from the scene, a white column rising in the distance. The men’s elegant clothing - notably that of Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus - are described with minute precision ; the bodies are slim and elongated, the poses refinely studied, though the artist did not master foreshortening ; the figure in the foreground has his back turned to the viewer.

On the sides, the two saints are seen standing under elaborate architectural structures, one with rounded arches, the other with ogee arches.
The presence of Saint Anthony, the Hermit, invoked in the case of various infectious and contagious illnesses, suggests that the painting was commissioned by a hospital. The area of Christ’s face is in fact the most damaged section, no doubt too worn by the hands of those faithful who prayed to Him.
However, the ensemble is in fairly good condition although the original frame has disappeared and the panels were reduced. The figure of Saint John the Baptist is particularly beautiful : the saint is associated to the main scene by his finger which points out Christ to the viewer, apparently saying Here is the Lamb of God.... He stands out for the elegance of his stance, his long and fine leg, his raised head ; the decorative effect of the draping is in contrast with the evident poverty of his habit. In front of him, on a completely different scale, we see the lamb bearing the cross and the banner.

This very rare triptych joins another one already residing at the Boijmans Museum : The Norfolk Triptych.

Version française

Bénédicte Bonnet Saint-Georges, vendredi 30 août 2013


[1] The first being the Rembrandt Association, as well as the Mondriaan Fund. The Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds (Breeman Talle Fonds), VSBfonds, SNS REAAL Fonds, the BankGiro Lottery and the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen Foundation also participated.

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