Workshop of Albrecht Bouts
- Albrecht Bouts
- Christ crowned with thorns
- oil on paper(?) laid on panel, gold ground
- 36 by 26 cm.; 14 1/8 by 10 1/4 in.
Sold from his collection, Brussels Galerie Giroux, 15 October 1928, lot 33;
Acquired from the above sale by Baron Coppée;
Thence by descent.
Brussels, Exposition universelle internationale, Cinq siècles d'art, I: Peintures arts anciens bruxellois et sections étrangers, 24 May – 13 October 1935, no. 80;
Worcester, Worcester Art Museum and Philadelphia, John G. Johnson Collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Worcester Philadelphia Exhibition of Flemish Paintings, 25 March – 26 April 1939, no. 40;
Paris, Musée de l'Orangerie, Exposition des Primitifs Flamands, 1947, no. 11;
Tokyo, Tobu Museum of Art, The World of Bruegel. The Coppée Collection and Eleven International Museums, 29 March – 25 June 1995, no. F4.
W. Schöne, Dieric Bouts und seine Schule, Berlin–Leipzig 1938, p. 197, no. 107/12, 15 and 16;
L. Van Puyvelde, Les primitifs flamands, Paris 1941, p. 29, reproduced plate 48;
M. Comblen-Sonkes, Le Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon, in Les primitifs flamands. I. Corpus de la peinture des anciens Pays-Bas méridionaux au quinzième siècle, vol. XIV, Brussels 1986, p. 62, no. 7;
S. Leclercq et al., La Collection Coppée, Liège 1991, pp. 8–9, reproduced (as by Bouts);
M. Wilmotte, in the catalogue of the exhibition The World of Bruegel. The Coppée Collection and Eleven International Museums, Tokyo 1995, pp. 160–61, no. F4, reproduced (as by Bouts);
V. Henderiks, Albrecht Bouts (1451/55–1549), Brussels 2011, p. 386, cat. no. 121, reproduced (as a replica of the original in Dijon).
This is one of several variants upon the theme of the suffering Christ developed by Albrecht Bouts in response to a growing demand for devotional images of this sort, and which were then repeated and widely distributed by his workshop. This is probably the first of a series of five closely related representations of Christ crowned with thorns, in which the Saviour is depicted bust length in the scarlet robes and crown of thorns with which he was dressed by Pilate’s soldiers in prelude to his mocking (Matthew 27: 27–31). He is shown sometimes with his hands opened in prayer or benediction, displaying his wounds or, as Ecce Homo, holding the rod with which he was beaten. Their remarkable detail permitted the individual to emulate Christ by identifying with his life and sufferings in accordance with the teachings of the Devotio Moderna. In many cases, these images of the suffering Christ were accompanied, in the form of a diptych, by a companion panel depicting the Mater Dolorosa or mourning Virgin, such as those now in the Musée National de Luxembourg, and the Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum, Aachen, through which the pious viewer could further enjoin the help of Christ’s Mother as intercessor for their salvation. As no such pair incorporating this particular type has survived, it is possible that it was always intended a single devotional image in its own right. The prototype is generally acknowledged to be the panel in the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Dijon, painted around 1495 (fig. 1).1 Possibly inspired by a lost prototype by Hugo van der Goes, it shows Christ clad plainly in scarlet, without his hands visible, his head gently inclined to the right, the reverse painted with the traditional iconic image of the ‘Holy Face’ of Christ. About a dozen versions of this particular type are listed by Valentine Henderiks in her recent monograph, including three painted in reverse.2 As Comblen-Stokes and other later writers have observed, the Coppée version stands out at once from the remainder of this group by virtue of its extremely high quality, and the possibility of Bouts’ own authorship should not be excluded.
These assessments have been supplemented by recent extensive examination undertaken by Valentine Henderiks and the IRPA in Brussels, which has enabled this panel to be studied in unprecedented detail. Examination under infra-red reflectography (fig. 2) reveals underdrawing entirely typical of works by Bouts and his workshop, and suggests the use of a common tracing or pounced drawing. Certain details in the execution of the painting of the face, such as the black line forming the mouth, the treatment of the eyes, and especially the virtuosity with which the details of the hair and beard are rendered, all offer close parallels with the prototype in Dijon. The remarkable state of preservation of the paint surface, with only very minor blemishes and a resultant lack of craquelure in many areas, had led to speculation that the Coppée painting was in fact painted upon paper or vellum. As Henderiks points out, such a method was not unknown among paintings of the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, a good example being the Christ Crowned with Thorns by Petrus Christus of about 1445 now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which was painted on parchment before being laid onto a wood support.3
We are greatly indebted to Valentine Henderiks for sharing the details of her examination of this painting. On the basis of her studies thus far, she proposes that the Coppée panel was painted after the Dijon panel of 1495, and perhaps slightly later than the Ecce Homo in the diptych in Aachen of some five years later, thus suggesting a possible date of execution around 1505–10. In view of the technical details outlined above and the panel’s evident high quality, she does not exclude the possibility of an attribution to Bouts himself.
1. See Henderiks, Literature 2011, pp. 236–41, 345–56, cat. no. 9, reproduced fig. 207.
2. Henderiks, op. cit., 2011, pp. 386–89, nos 121–137.
3. Exhibited New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, From Van Eyck to Brueghel. Early Netherlandish Painting in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1998–99, no. 3.