Netherlandish School, circa 1470
Netherlandish School, circa 1470
Netherlandish School, circa 1470
Netherlandish School, circa 1470
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Netherlandish School, circa 1470

The Entombment of Christ

Details
Netherlandish School, circa 1470
The Entombment of Christ
oil on panel
49 ½ x 35 1/8 in. (125.8 x 89.2 cm.)
Provenance
Hofrat Sigmund Röhrer (1861-1929), Augsburg, by whom given in 1924 to the following,
Städtische Kunstsammlung, Augsburg, inv. no. 6090.
Private collection, Switzerland, by 1963, and by descent.
Literature
K. Löcher, in Pantheon, 1963, p. 398.
Dr. T.L. de Bruin, in Das Münster, XXI, 1968, p. 192, fig. 1.
Exhibited
Nürnberg, Germanisches Museum, Sammlung Heinz Kisters: Altdeutsche und Altniederländische Gemälde, 25 June-15 September 1963, no. 62, as 'Follower of Dirk Bouts'.
Kreuzlingen, Evangelischen Kirchgemeindehaus, Meisterwerke aus der Sammlung Heinz Kisters, 17 July-8 August 1971, no. 12, as 'Follower of Dirk Bouts'.
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Clementine Sinclair
Clementine Sinclair

Lot Essay

This arresting image of the Entombment of Christ, which is likely to have originally formed the central part of a triptych, or a polyptych for an altar, depicts the moment at which Christ’s body was lowered into His tomb, following the Crucifixion. The Entombment of Christ was a crucial moment in the Passion narratives in each of the four Gospels and became a widely popular subject in religious painting throughout the Middle Ages and beyond. In this rendition of the subject, none of the attendants, including the Virgin, physically touch Christ’s body, which is supported solely by the white shroud held by Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. At the forefront of the picture plane are two prominent columbine flowers, silhouetted against the rich green hues of the grass. This flower was traditionally symbolic of the Holy Spirit, its name deriving from the Latin ‘colomba’, meaning dove. It also came to have associations with melancholy and suffering, thus heightening the significance of its inclusion in this painting.

This panel was associated with the work of Dirk Bouts and the Leuven school by Max J. Friedländer in the early 1950s. The centrality of the stone tomb, the arrangement of the attendant figures and the way in which Christ’s body is lowered into the sepulchre all find strong parallels in Bouts’ own depiction of the scene (London, National Gallery). Scenes of the Lamentation or Entombment often included allusions to the anointing of Christ’s body, or integrated this narrative into the scene. However, as in Bouts’ painting, the present panel includes no reference to this element of the narrative, instead focussing on the precise moment of the lowering of Christ’s body into the tomb. Even Mary Magdalene’s jar of ointment (her traditional attribute) is absent as she kneels before the sarcophagus. This Entombment differs from Bout’s painting by reducing the number of figures in the scene to the essential characters in the narrative and simplifying their interaction with Christ’s lifeless body.

As well as the obvious influence of Bouts, this painting shows strong affinities with the pictorial style of artists working in the Northern Netherlands. Similarities in the treatment of the figures and the narrative can be found for example in the work of painters such as The Master of the Virgo inter Virgines, who worked in Delft during the last quarter of the century, and Geertgen tot Sint Jans, who was active in Haarlem during the same period and whose Lamentation in Vienna (Kunsthistoriches Museum) finds some connections with the present work, especially in the treatment of Christ’s body and the dress of the mourning Holy Women. Indeed, the style of the present picture can even be seen to anticipate the early work of painters like Hieronymus Bosch: for example, his Ecce Homo in the Städel Museum, Frankfurt; and his Adoration of the Magi in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. The influence of Boutsian models in the panel is not incongruous with these Northern Netherlandish characteristics, since Bouts was himself born in the region, probably in Haarlem, and is likely to have trained there before relocating to Leuven in the early 1460s.

The panel shows a detailed scheme of underdrawing throughout both the figures and the architecture of the tomb, which appears to have been planned originally to include small successive arched decorations, which were abandoned for the more austere unornamented stone in the final paint layer. However, in the position of the figures and the carefully planned scheme of drapery folds, few changes appear to have been made, though the painter seems to have adjusted the position of Christ’s feet several times before finding a satisfactory composition. The prominent columbines at the lower edge of the panel appear to have been added only in the paint layer and do not appear in the initial drawing at all.

The dress of the figures is exotic and deliberately archaic. The kneeling Magdalene, for instance, wears an elaborate headdress and veil with a dress far removed from contemporary fashions of the late-fifteenth century, though in all its essential elements it can be recognised as an exoticised version of the state of undress of the same figure in Rogier van der Weyden’s Descent from the Cross (Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado). The figure holding the shroud at Christ’s feet, likely Joseph of Arimathea since he traditionally occupied this position in Netherlandish painting, wears a rich robe of dark green with sleeves deeply trimmed with fur. On his head he wears a large red ‘stock’ or bag hat, a style of headdress which was favoured in the late-fourteenth and early-fifteenth century.

We are grateful to Dr. Valentine Henderiks for her thoughts on the painting, on the basis of images. She considered it to be by an artist working in the circle of Bouts and dated it stylistically to circa 1470-80.

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