Since they were first published in the early 20th century, these two altar wings have been recognized as superb works by the anonymous Flemish painter known as the Master of the Magdalene Legend. The elaborate coats of arms identify the donors as members of the Clercq Boevekerke and Hannock families. These crests have been artfully worked into the composition as if they were physical objects occupying the same space as the sitters, alternately hanging from tree branches or affixed to architecture. On the right wing, the kneeling bearded man dressed in a red velvet, ermine-lined robe, is Charles de Clercq. A native of Mechelen, De Clercq was a successful courtier who counted among his titles Councilor-Treasurer of War, Treasurer of Finance, and Master of the Court of Accounts under Charles V. He would later become Commissaire general of the kingdom of Naples and, after 1516, the Treasurer-General of the Netherlands at Lille, a position he held until his death in 1523. De Clercq was buried in the church of Saint-Jean in Malines and the biographical details of his life are known through his epitaph.
Standing behind De Clercq is his patron saint, Charlemagne, who brandishes a sword and holds a model of the Minster of Aix. As Marc Rudolf de Vrij notes, the presence of Charlemagne may also be meant as a sign of De Clercq’s allegiance to the Holy Roman Emperor (op. cit., p. 19). Sir Charles’s third wife, Anne Hannock (d. 1537), kneels beside him in equally luxurious attire. It was a successful marriage: Anne would bear Sir Charles eleven children, many of whom had successful careers at court and in the Church. Anne’s parents, Philip Hannock and his wife, Maria Colinsone, are shown kneeling in prayer on the left wing, protected by Saint Philip the Apostle. The cross fichée above Maria’s hands indicates that hers was a posthumous portrait. Philip Hannock married Marie Colinsone in 1480, and after becoming a widower, joined the priesthood.
The altarpiece to which these panels originally belonged may have been commissioned to commemorate the wedding of De Clercq and Anne Hannock in 1509, an event which must serve as a terminus post quem for their creation. The style of the sitters’ clothing, however, indicates a slightly later date of around 1520 (J. Tombu, op. cit., p. 274). For these reasons, de Vrij concludes that the panels should be dated to between 1516 and 1523, essentially the same period as the creation of the now-dismantled and dispersed polyptych of the Legend of Saint Mary Magdalene after which the artist is named. Given that Philip Hannock is shown dressed as a layman rather than a man of the cloth, the commission must also have predated his ordination. The compositional arrangement of the figures and their patron saints reflects the influence of Hugo van der Goes, particularly his Portinari Altarpiece of c. 1475 (Uffizi, Florence). When the Newark panels were in the Michael Friedsam collection around 1917, they still were joined with their painted exteriors. Executed in grisaille, the versos of the shutters represent a harrowing Ecce Homo scene that recalls the work of Hieronymus Bosch both iconographically and stylistically (present location unknown, last recorded with Dowdeswell’s Gallery, see RKD nos. 49529-30). The central panel is unrecorded, but likely would have represented a Nativity or Adoration scene.