The panels in this set probably once numbered seven in total, making up the total of the seven Acts of Mercy. In addition to Burying the dead, Visiting the sick, Feeding the hungry, and Giving drink to the thirsty seen here in the present lot, other panels may have depicted Visiting the imprisoned, Sheltering the homeless, and Clothing the naked. A figure of Christ garbed in red appears in each, as do likenesses four similarly dressed men. Their costume and appearance connect them in a way that suggests they are portraits of members of the same family or a confraternity, and in some cases the likenesses are so similar that they might even be the same person.
It is very likely that these panels were meant for a religious institution, confraternity, or a location where the act of giving alms was carried out, where they served as visual reminders for holy and charitable behavior. In their function, these panels can be compared to a large frieze-like scene depicting the Seven Acts of Mercy, completed in 1504 by the Master of Alkmaar and today in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.1
The recent cleaning of one of the panels from the set, Burying the dead, has not only unveiled a vibrant color palette, a brushy treatment of the individual faces, and a greater sense of depth in the background, but also hints of the underdrawing used to render the scene. This free and lively underdrawing, which is faintly visible to the naked eye, is more fully revealed by IRR imaging (fig. 1).
1. Oil on panel, 119.1 by 469.5 cm., inv. no. SK-A-2815.
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