- Ambrosius Benson
- The Lamentation
- oil on oak panel, with a shaped top
Art market, England, 1954;
Private collection, London, 1957;
Private collection, Switzerland;
Museum het Spaans Gouvernement, Maastricht , inv. no. 0279 (later renamed Museum aan het Vrijthof);
Acquired from the above by the present owner circa 2010.
G. Marlier, Ambrosius Benson et la peinture à Bruges au temps de Charles-Quint, Damme 1957, pp. 100, 294, cat. no. 47, reproduced plate XII.
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The circular arrangement of figures is, like much Netherlandish art, indebted to Rogier van Weyden, specifically to his now lost painting showing Christ carried to the tomb known today only through a copied drawing in the Musée du Louvre, Paris (which is, in turn, a variant of Rogier’s Descent from the Cross in the Prado).1 Making many changes along the way, Benson has transformed the overtly horizontal axis into a vertical arrangement simply by removing extraneous figures, turning one to look inwards rather than outwards and compressing them all into a tighter grouping. The figure of the Magdalene now overlaps the feet of Christ while her attendant and male companion behind are gone. Instead of turning away from Christ the striking figure of Mary of Clopas now looks into the composition, directly at Christ, becoming the right hand framing device to mirror John the Evangelist on the left, who is also dressed in red. Mary of Clopas however is not Rogerian, but seems rather to be borrowed and adapted from Gerard David’s Deposition in the Frick collection, New York.2 Overall Benson’s is a neat contemporary reinterpretation of what must have been a very well-known work of art, indeed Friedlander proposed that it might have been the same as the one Dürer admired in the Prinsenhof Chapel in Bruges.
In the centre of Rogier’s design is an angel providing discreet support to Christ’s arm. In Benson’s work that figure has disappeared, though in looking beneath the paint surface through the medium of infra-red reflectographs we see the outline of a figure in that position that Benson subsequently omitted (see fig. 1). The outlined figure looks less like an angel and more like a veiled female looking downwards at Christ. If this is the case it would suggest that Benson’s initial plan was to enclose the circular arrangement further with an additional figure, before thinking better of it in order to gain a view over the rolling fields to the city gate. In another treatment of the subject (private collection) the figures are set before a rock face with just a glimpse of a landscape behind Mary of Clopas;3 and in a lesser variant, described by Marlier as from Benson’s workshop, the view is partly obscured by the upright of the cross.4 We are grateful to Peter van den Brink for endorsing the attribution to Benson following first hand inspection. Drs. Van den Brink knows the painting from when it was on loan to the Bonnefantemuseum during his directorship there. Till Holger Borchert, on the basis of photographs, considers there to be an element of workshop assistance in the final execution.
1. See F. Winkler, Der Meister von Flemalle und Rogier van der Weyden, Strasbourg 1913, pl. XVI.
2. Accession number 1915.1.33.
3. Sold London, Christie’s, 6 July 2010, lot 28.
4. Formerly with Spanish Art Gallery, London. See Marlier, under Literature, cat. no. 7, reproduced plate XII.