Pieter Pourbus (?Gouda 1523/4-1584 Bruges)
Pieter Pourbus (?Gouda 1523/4-1584 Bruges)

The Last Supper

Pieter Pourbus (?Gouda 1523/4-1584 Bruges)
The Last Supper
oil on panel
63 7/8 x 76 ¾ in. (162.2 x 195 cm.)
David Reder, Antwerp, circa 1935; Duprez, Brussels, 6-7 December 1938, lot 51, as Adam van Noort (presumably unsold).
David (and Jacob) Reder, Brussels, from whom confiscated by the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg after May 1940 and transferred to Germany.
Munich Central Collecting Point (No. 21497).
Returned to Belgium, 25 August 1949 (ORE No. A395), and restituted to David (and Jacob) Reder, 16 December 1949.
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, Amsterdam, 26 November 1984, lot 56, as Adam van Noort.
with Gebr. Douwes, Amsterdam.
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, Amsterdam, 14 November 1990, lot 48, as Adam van Noort.
Private collection, Belgium, 1991.
with The Weiss Gallery, London, where acquired by the present owner in 2014.
Office de Récupération Économique, Royaume de Belgique, Répertoire d'oeuvres d'art dont la Belgique a été spoliée durant la guerre 1939-1945, no. 186, pl. XIII.
Dictionnaire des Peintres, Brussels, p. 460, where the picture is given as monogrammed by Adam van Noort.
Antwerp, Tentoonstelling van kunstwerken uit Antwerpsche Verzamelingen, Antwerpsche Propagandaweken, 20 April-16 June 1935, no. 168, as Adam van Noort.

Lot Essay

In this superbly preserved panel, Pieter Pourbus represents the Last Supper on a grand scale, rendering the tension of this emotionally charged moment all the more awe-inspiring. Several elements in the composition point to Pourbus’s admiration for the visual vocabulary of the Italian Renaissance, including the marble floor with its handsome geometric pattern and the loggia setting with its pilasters and views of classicizing architecture. The figures’ muscular bodies, easily discernible beneath their garments, are also redolent of a Michelangesque ideal, but their faces speak of Pourbus’s fluency in the Netherlandish tradition of portraiture. Indeed, several of the apostles’ features are so individualized and expressive that they were surely taken from life. It is tempting to posit that one of these faces belongs to the patron of this monumental painting, who may have intended it as an altarpiece for his residence or for a future funerary chapel, where it would have served a commemorative function. Pourbus’s handling of light, too, reflects his Northern origins, particularly his ability to capture its dazzling effects on different surfaces, from the earthenware jug on the floor to the pristine white cloth on the table. For this painting, Pourbus drew inspiration from Pieter Coecke van Aelst’s treatment of the theme, known through many autograph versions and copies, of which the earliest known example dates from 1529 (Belvoir Castle, Duke of Rutland), some twenty years before Pourbus' first Last Supper (1549; Belgium, private collection). Coecke's composition, however, served only very loosely as the basis of Pourbus' interpretation.

The episode, in which Christ announces that one of his disciples will betray him and in which he consecrates bread and wine and thus established the rite of the Eucharist, is juxtaposed with preceding scenes in the biblical narrative. At upper left, Saint Peter and John seek a venue for the Passover meal that will become the Last Supper, following Christ's instructions to follow a man carrying a jar of water (Mark 14:12-16), while at right, Christ washes the Apostles' feet, in keeping with John’s account (13:1-15). Pourbus, the most prominent painter to work in Bruges in the second half of the sixteenth century, made five other depictions of the Last Supper (all of imposing size) in addition to the present painting, including the 1559 Triptych of the Brotherhood of the Sacrament (Bruges, St. Salvatorskerk) and that of 1562 in the Onze Lieve Vrouwekerk, Bruges. The former still retains its original double-sided wings, the left one showing Melchisedech’s Offering and the right one, Elijah Fed by the Angel, and it is possible that our Last Supper may have similarly once been part of a triptych.

Pourbus laid out his monumental composition with extensive preparatory drawings, visible to the naked eye in many places beneath the paint surface. Infrared reflectography confirms that the artist applied this underdrawing using a dry, carbon-based material. Freely drawn, the underdrawing defines the placement and disposition of the figures and still life elements, while the architecture was laid out using a ruler. Pourbus made several changes to his design as he executed it in paint, most notably he decided not to include the knife (visible in the underdrawing) that appears below the plate with the Pascal lamb at center.

More from Old Masters Part I

View All
View All