Master Paintings and Sculpture Part II

Master Paintings and Sculpture Part II

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 409. A triptych for the Van der Does Family.

Property from an Important Private Collection, California

Netherlandish School, late 15th and mid-16th centuries

A triptych for the Van der Does Family

Auction Closed

January 27, 09:38 PM GMT


30,000 - 50,000 USD

Lot Details


Property from an Important Private Collection, California

Netherlandish School, late 15th and mid-16th centuries

A triptych for the Van der Does Family

a triptych, oil on panel

central panel: 41 by 38¾ in.; 104.1 by 98.4 cm.

outer wings: 41 by 16⅜ in.; 104.1 by 41.6 cm.

center panel framed: 47 by 43¾ in.; 119.4 by 111.1 cm.

outer wings framed: 47 by 21⅞in.; 119.4 by 55.6 cm.

overall triptych with wings open: 47 by 87¾ in.; 119.4 by 222.9 cm. 

G.D.J. Schotel, De abdij van Rijnsburg, s'Hertogenbosch 1851, p. 199-200;
J.J. De Geer, "Proeve eener geschiedenis van het geslacht en der goederen der Heeren van Mathenesse," in Berigten van Het Historisch Genootschap te Utrecht, vol. III, Utrecht 1850, pp. 78-79;
Possibly M.J. Bok, "Laying Claims to Nobility in the Dutch Republic: Epitaphs, True and False," in Simiolus: Netherlands Quarterly for the History of Art 24no. 2/3 (1996), pp. 223-224, notes 90-93.

This large and recently rediscovered triptych was made for the Van der Does family, one of the most influential in Leiden. It features the relatives and descendants of Adriaen van der Does (d. 1502) and was painted in two distinct periods, the late fifteenth and mid-sixteenth centuries. A Northern Netherlandish artist, probably active in the Leiden region, executed the central panel in the late fifteenth century as a Memorietafel, or a panel made in memory of one or more deceased persons. Another Netherlandish artist was responsible for the outer wings, which would have been added nearly half a century later in about 1560, a date confirmed by the figure’s costumes in the outer elements and in a related inscription on the surface of the outer wings. For most of its early life, this triptych hung in Rijnsburg Abbey, where it was still recorded in 1570 by a Van der Does heir. Although the Abbey was sacked and destroyed four years later, this triptych remained in safe keeping, and still in the early-seventeenth century, it was mentioned as hanging at a Van der Does familial property. Its whereabouts have been subsequently unknown until now. 

In the center panel, before a scene illustrating the Mass of Saint Gregory, kneel four adults and three children accompanied by four saints, two on each side. Remarkably, nearly all of these figures are identifiable. The gentleman in the lower right is Adriaen van der Does (d. 1502) who kneels next to his first wife, Elisabeth von Cats (d. 1477). Behind them are their three children, Elisabeth (b. 1470), Dirck (b. 1472) and a third girl who died at a young age. The two women kneeling on the left are Aleid vander Spangen (d. 1448) and her daughter Elizabeth van Mattenesse (d. 1469), who were respectively Adriaen’s grandmother and mother.1 The saints standing on the left are Saint Anthony the Great and an as yet unidentified saint with an arrow, while on the right are Saints Adrian of Nicodemia (Adriaen’s name saint) and George (patron saint of the Van der Does family).2 The costumes of the figures,3 as well as the ages of the three children of Adriaen van der Does and Elisabeth suggest that this panel was painted soon after Elisabeth’s death in 1477. 

Although the identity of the adults in this combined memorial panel can initially be surmised by the individual coats of arms on each of their individual kneelers, they are further confirmed by the inscriptions, probably of a slightly later date than the central panel, along the frame’s lower edge, which suggest this work hung above several tombs. 

Hier leyt begrauen jonckfrou Alijd vander / Spangen, Adriens wijf van Mathenesse was / starf jnt jair MCCCCXLVIII opten XIIIen, dach jn October

Hier leydt begrauen jonckfrou Elizabeth van / Mattenesse, Diricx van der Does wijff was, starff / jnt jair MCCCCLXIX des vrijdaechs nae Pynster

Hier leydt begrauen joncfrou Elisabeth van Cats / Adriaens vander Does wijff was, starff jnt / jair MCCCCLXXVII opten laesten dach van Aprill

Hier leydt begrauen Adriaen vander Does / rentmeister van desen cloester, starff jnt / jaer MVc ende II opten XVen Februario

The triptych’s later wings feature other members and descendants of the Van der Does family. Several women fill the foreground of the left wing. Kneeling at the front of the group is a lady from the Van Reimerswael family, almost certainly Adriaen van der Does’ second wife, Geertruid van Reimerswael (d. 1513). She is attired partly in the earlier fashion of the ladies in the central panel, as visible in her hennin and cloak, but the rest of her costume dates to about 1560. This more modern garb is worn also by two ladies to the left and right just behind her. Kneeling behind Geertruid are most probably her daughters with Adriaen: Johanna Abbess of Leeuwenhorst, shown with her staff, behind whom are Cornelia and Elisabeth who were both nuns in Rijnsburg by 1499; on the far left dressed in white is Aleid, a nun in Leiden’s Saint Cecilia convent; Margaretha is probably the worldly figure just behind Geertruid on the right, while the other similarly attired figure to the left may be a granddaughter of the couple.    

The right wing of the triptych includes primarily male figures, nearly all of which are attired in red tabards emblazoned with the Van der Does and Van Reimerswael coats of arms. These men are probably the sons of Geertruid and Adriaen, although only the identity of the two bearded men can be surmised. Kneeling at the forefront of the group may be the younger Adriaen van der Does (1482-1563) who remained unmarried and without an heir, while the bearded figure behind him is perhaps his brother Hendrick (probably born around 1500).4 The female figure to the right of Hendrick may be his wife, who was from the Vernenburg family,5 and perhaps it was this couple that commissioned these outer wings, which when closed are inscribed with the text Vernenburch 1559. The young boy in black, along with the young girl on the left wing, may be the children of Hendrick and his wife, although the boy may have died at a young age. 

When the wings of the triptych are closed, one encounters two large coats of arms surrounded by thirty-two quarters. The large coat of arms on the left features the shield of the Van der Does family that reappears throughout the triptych, although here it is embellished with a heraldic device also found on the tombstone of the younger Adriaen van der Does.6 The right wing features Van der Does and Reimerswael coats of arms. Above the coat of arms on the left is a banner inscribed VERNENBURCH · 1559. This date adds further evidence of the outer wing’s completion date, although the reason for the inclusion of the Vernenburg name has yet to be fully understood. The Van der Does family had very similar coat of arms, though with colors reversed, to one line of the Vernenburf family. It may be the case that once this particular Vernenburg family line died out in the mid-sixteenth century, the Van der Does family adopted the Vernenburg coat of arms as their own, thereby upgrading their lineage to one of noble descent. 

In addition to all of the Van der Does familial ties that abound in this triptych, another interesting element is the religious iconography chosen for the backgrounds of the inner scenes. The center panel intriguingly features the Mass of Saint Gregory. In this miraculous story, Saint Gregory, while saying Mass, became aware of a congregation member who doubted Christ’s presence in the Eucharist. As he prayed for a sign to convince the doubter, Gregory beheld a vision of Christ as the Man of Sorrows surrounded by the instruments of his Passion rising from the altar. Here, however, while a missal and chalice lie on the altar, there is no other clear reference to the Eucharist. Behind the kneeling figures on the wings are, at left, Adam and Eve (representing mankind’s first sin) and at right, Cain and Abel (representing mankind’s first violence),7 unusual choices for prayer portraits of this type in the sixteenth century. These iconographic subjects may suggest that the apparently Catholic Van der Does family lived in a region where Protestantism was gaining strength.

Indeed, the removal of certain overt references to the Christ’s eucharistic transubstantiation, a Catholic belief not upheld by the Protestants, may have allowed the Van der Does family to display the central panel without repercussion. 

As a Memorietafel, the present work originally hung in the Abbey Church of Rijnsburg over the tombstone of Adriaen van der Does (d. 1502). The abbess of Rijnsburg abbey during the late sixteenth century was Adriaen’s maternal aunt, also named Elizabeth like her sister. Sixteenth century testimony records that the entire triptych was still hanging in this church on the north wall under the organ in 1570,8 although it was removed from the abbey before it was sacked in 1574. In 1623, the painting was seen at Offem Castle in Noordwijk by Aernout van Buchell while visiting his friend, who was a Van der Does.   

This triptych may have been featured in a 1560 court case in Utrecht, where it would have served as evidence in a lawsuit between Herman van Zuylen and his distant cousin, Dirk van Zuylen van der Haar, Lord of Zevender.9 If the present lot was the triptych recorded in that court case, it may have also served as a visual aid to help identify sitters in two other paintings handed over to the court, portraits by Jan Gossaert and Antonis Mor.10 

We are very grateful to Dr. Marten Jan Bok for his kind assistance in the cataloguing of this lot. We are also grateful to Dr. Truus van Bueren, as well as to Sigrun Brouwer of the Leiden Archive.


1.  Aleid had a second daughter, also named Elizabeth, who became the Abbess at Rijnsburg Abbey. Elisabeth van Matenesse’s husband was Dirck van der Does, Adriaen’s father. 

2.  Saint George is also present on the wings of a triptych made for the Van der Does family by Cornelis Engebrechtsz that is today in the Museum de Lakenhal, Leiden. 

3. For a comparable costume from this period, with the same distinct hennin and v-neck collar, see

4. In a notarial deed from 1580, Hendrick is referenced to as being eighty years old. His name, noted in this deed as Jonckheer van Verneburg ende vander Does, is further evidence of his marriage to a lady of the Vernenburg family. 

5. The coat of arms on her kneeling pew remains somewhat enigmatic. It is not one of the coats of arms traditionally associated with the Vernenburg family, whose arms are quite similar to that of the Van der Does family. The golden lion with a blue tongue on a red shield, however, is similar to that of Arent van der Does, great grandson of Adriaen and Elisabeth van Cats and grandson of their son Dirck, the young boy kneeling in the center panel. 

6.  His tombstone is at the Oude Jeroenskerk in Noordwijk-Binnen.  

7. To the left of Cain, who holds a jawbone in his hand, and above the deceased Abel is the text: “VIRTUS.VI.OPPRIMITUR,” or “Virtue is oppressed by violence.” 

8. Schotel 1851, pp. 199-200.

9.  See Bok 1996, pp. 223-225, notes 90-93.

10. We are grateful to Dr. Marten Jan Bok for this information.