6 July 2011
Pieter Coecke van Aelst I (Aelst 1502-1550 Brussels) and Workshop
The Last Supper
dated 'ANNO 1545' (upper centre, in the stained glass); inscribed and dated 'ANNO' 'NO[V] 1545' (centre left and centre right, on the relief roundels); inscribed 'FVNDA.LAPIDE.CLADIO:ViCiT.DAVID.GOLiATH.' (upper left, on the relief roundel); and inscribed 'ABEL CLAMAT.DE.TERRA.VOX SANGViNi' (upper right, on the relief roundel)
oil on panel
24 x 31 5/8 in. (61 x 80.3 cm.)
In the family of the present owners before 1906.
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M.J. Friedländer, Early Netherlandish Painting, XII, Leyden and Brussels, 1975, p. 36.
G. Marlier, Pierre Coeck d'Alost, Brussels, 1966, p. 98, no. 17.
Pieter Coecke van Aelst's Last Supper was one of the most popular images of the 16th Century. It freely combined the compositions of Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper in Milan (1498) and Marcantonio Raimondi's engraving after Raphael's drawing of the same subject (c. 1510-20) with the enigmatic gestures of the apostles from the popular print by Albrecht Dürer (1523). The scene with Cain and Abel is taken directly from a print by another popular Renaissance artist, Jan Gossaert, called Mabuse (active 1503-32).
Small biblical scenes are depicted in the background, heightening the impact of the main theme. Through the window we see an archway (in typical Antwerp style) with the Entry into Jerusalem, an episode of the Passion that precedes the Last Supper. The medals represent the stories of David and Goliath and the Slaying of Cain. The whole iconography is focused on original sin and mankind's salvation through Christ's sacrifice.
The use of modern Renaissance motifs and the iconographic intricacy contributed to the composition's popularity. This can be measured by the many versions: an impressive forty-five are known today with dated versions ranging between 1527 and 1550. Minor variations and stylistic diversity in the group of forty-five Last Supper compositions indicate the collaboration of workshop assistants. Coecke is known to have had a large and productive workshop that was organized in a modern way. As the matîre entrepreneur, he provided his assistants with inventions and supervised the production process. The Last Supper probably originated as a drawn model. The composition could then be transferred to a panel by means of cartoons, which was common practice in the first half of the 16th Century. The paintings came in two standardized formats: 50 x 60 cm. and 60 x 80 cm., of which the large format seems to have been the most popular.
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