Our painter, active in the second quarter of the 16th century in Flanders, was still firmly rooted within the Late Gothic tradition. He added some modern touches, borrowed from the so-called ‘Antwerp Mannerists’: the richly decorated headgear of Mary Magdalene and the sumptuous brocade dress of Joseph of Arimatea.
The left wing shows Nicodemus lowering the dead body of Christ from the cross into the arms of Joseph of Arimathea. At the foot of the cross Saint John the Evangelist is supporting the Virgin Mary, while Mary Magdalene is praying.
The right wing shows Christ carrying the cross.
About the subject of our pair of wings of a triptych
The left wing represents the descent of the cross.
Christ is being taken from the cross by two men:
- at right Joseph of Arimathea, who donated his own prepared tomb for the burial of Jesus. According to Mathew he was a rich man;
- at left, standing on a ladder, Nicodemus.
At the foot of the cross are three more figures:
- the Virgin Mary wearing a white mantle over her blue dress;
- Saint John the Evangelist who is supporting her;
- Mary Magdalene.
Mary Magdalene is described, both in the canonical New Testament and in the New Testament apocrypha, as a devoted disciple of Jesus. The life of the historical Mary is a subject of ongoing debate, as Catholics have traditionally identified three women as the same Mary : Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany and the woman sinner.
Mary Magdalene was the sister of Lazarus and of Martha. She lead a sinful life as a prostitute, but finally became one of the closest followers of Christ. She was the first person who saw Christ after His Resurrection, next to His tomb, at first mistakenly holding him for a gardener (“noli me tangere”).
Mary Magdalene is holding the alabaster jar of ointment: this sinful woman came to the house of Simon the Leper and poured the perfume on Christ’s head after she had wet his feet with tears and dried them with her hair.
The right wing represents Christ carrying the cross.
The last days of Christ, the so-called Passion, started with his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. But soon after Jesus was arrested in Jerusalem by the Temple Guards of its local council, the Sanhedrin. This Jewish assembly condemned him to death for his claims that he was the son of God. They took Jesus to Pontius Pilate, the Roman prefect of the province of Judaea, where they accused him of tax resistance and of calling himself a king, crimes for which he was, according to Roman law this time, also to be sentenced to death.
Because Pilate was reluctant to have Jesus crucified he let the Jewish crowd choose, because of Passover, between Christ and Barabbas, who was to be granted life. The people chose for Barabbas.
Jesus was first scourged by the Roman soldiers, then given three fake royal symbols and mocked by them before being shown again to the crowd.
Like other people condemned to be crucified Christ had to carry, to drag his own cross to the place of his execution, Golgotha.
About our paintings
This pair of triptych wings was in the past erroneously attributed to the Dutch painter Cornelis Enge(l)brechtsz. (Leiden circa 1462 – 1527 Leiden). He was the first important painter in Leiden, the master of Lucas van Leyden.
About Late Gothic Mannerism in Antwerp
At the start of the 16th century Bruges had definitely lost its prime position as Flanders’ most important economic and cultural centre. In 1528 the Antwerp Painters’ Guild of Saint Luke counted 180 different Master-Painters. That is a huge number proving that Antwerp was an important cultural centre in Europe only second to Rome, Venice and Florence. Many paintings, mostly triptychs, were often being produced by anonymous, today unidentified workshops; for important commands several painters would regularly work together. Except for a few well-known masters as Jan Gossaert or Joos van Cleve these painters did not sign their paintings.
During the first third of the 16th century Renaissance ideas and decorative motives from Italy were introduced. In the Late Gothic art from this period in Antwerp the visual content stayed basically the same as in the previous century but the way of telling a biblical story, the ‘maniera’, the appearance had changed. The German connoisseur Max Jacob Friedländer (1867 - 1958) ‘mistakenly’ baptised these artists ‘Antwerp Mannerists’. There were indeed some common similarities with the Mannerist artists who came after the Renaissance: biblical figures were depicted as extravagant overacting actors in uncertain poses, making unnecessary gestures, dressed in very decorative, fashionable clothes. The fantastic, far-fetched, unbalanced fantasy of the ‘new’ ruled, resulting in masses of details.
The painter of our pair of triptych paintings seems to have been firmly rooted in the Late Gothic art. The richly decorated headgear of Mary Magdalene and the sumptuous brocade dress of Joseph of Arimatea seem to be the only ‘modern’ elements in a basically conservative style of painting, firmly established in the traditions of earlier painters.
Why should you buy this pair of paintings?
Because they form a beautiful manifestation of the religious feelings present in Late Medieval Flanders.