Brussels School, last quarter of the 15th Century
- The Virgin and Child enthroned in an Interior with Angels carrying Instruments of the Passion
- Oil on oak panel, in an engaged frame
The pose of the Virgin and Child appears to derive from a half-length treatment of the subject by Van der Weyden in the Huntington Library, Los Angeles, in which the Christ Child similarly reaches forwards with his arms (here holding a rosary, in the Huntington picture a book), under the careful watch of his mother.1 Whereas in the Rogier prototype the legs of the Christ Child extend directly beneath him, here they are bowed and project to his right, in a development of the design that also recurs in a painting of The Virgin and Child with two Angels given by Friedländer to Hans Memling, of unknown location.2Memling himself was trained under Van der Weyden in Brussels, and following his master's death in 1464 established himself as an independent master in the city of Bruges, as a result of which the present design was most likely transferred to that flourishing artistic centre.
The interior setting with distinctive tiled flooring and use of a brocaded badalcchino to provide the backdrop to the central figures also finds parallels in the work of Van der Weyden, for example in his Altarpice of the Virgin in the Royal Chapel, Granada, and the broad, idealised facial types to the Virgin and Child and attendant angels are unmistakenly indebted to that master. Less typical however is the highly unusual depiction of Angels carrying the instruments of the Passion, a subject rarely to be found in Early Netherlandish Painting, although similar compositional (rather than iconographical) types exist within the work of more minor masters working in Brussels in the Van der Weyden following, such as An Interior with the Virgin and Child enthroned with Angels by the Master of the Barbara Legend listed by Friedländer as in the M. Stern Collection, Montreal.3 The instruments of the Passion carried by the angels represent a clear premonition of Christ's forthcoming sacrifice and it is for this reason that the Virgin is depicted in red robes (an allusion to Christ's blood) rather than the more normal blue or white drapery.
With regard to dating, dendrochronological analysis to the present panel conducted by Dr Iain Tyers (whose report is available on request) has identified that the three vertical oak boards were derived from two trees which were still growing in 1462 in the eastern Baltic. Allowing for missing sapwood and typical usage intervals, Dr. Tyers believes that the boards are likely to have been felled after circa 1470 and were probably utilised before circa 1502. This technical analysis to the panel supports a likely date of execution for the painting by an artist working in the close following of Van der Weyden during the the last quarter of the 15th century.
When published by Guislain-Wittermann in 1980/1 (see under Literature) the present work formed the central panel of a composed triptych, the wings by a lesser hand. The left wing displays a Nativity with, in the background, the Annunciation to the Shepherds and the Ecce Agnus Dei; and the right a donor, with the Magdalene, a bishop saint, Saint Peter and Saint Jerome. On the reverses of the wings is an Annunciation, painted en grisaille, similar to that on the reverses of the wings of the Portinari Triptych by Hugo van der Goes. They are charged with coats of arms of the Pardo and Ribardeneira families from Spain, although technical analysis carried out suggests that these cover earlier crests beneath.
1. See M.J. Friedländer, Early Netherlandish Painting, Rogier van der Weyden and the Master of Flemalle, vol. II, Leyden 1972, no. 40, reproduced plate 62.
2. See M.J. Friedländer, Early Netherlandish Painting, Hans Memlinc and Gerard David, vol. VI, part I, Leyden 1972, no. 57, reproduced plate 102.
3. See M.J. Friedländer, Early Netherlandish Painting, Hugo van der Goes, vol. IV, Leyden 1972, no. 65, reproduced plate 62.