The composition of the centre piece derives from Adriaen Isenbrant’s triptychs of the Litany of the Blessed Virgin. Two triptychs by Isenbrant depicting this rare subject are known; one triptych was recently sold with Christie’s Paris, 14 September 2016, lot 16; the other one is in the National Museum, Warsaw. The lateral wings of the present work differ from these prototypes, depicting Saint Catharine and Saint Barbara. Datable to circa 1520-30, the present work is an addition to at least three further known triptychs with variants after Isenbrant. The subject derives from the iconography of the Immaculate Conception, which emerged from theological debates during the 15th and 16th century. Isenbrant’s composition appears to have been inspired by a print published in the Livre d’heures à l’usage de Rome by the German engraver Thielman Kerver in 1502. Depictions of the Litany of the blessed Virgin seem rather rare and this might indicate they may been commissioned for a local group of patrons in Bruges for private devotion.
The Virgin in prayer hovers in a blue nimbus in a mantel decorated with with golden stars. Around her, Marian symbols are arranged, comparable to the order of the print of Kerver, and indicating her virtues (´bright like the sun', ´beautiful like the moon', ´mirror without stains', etc.). Referring to texts of the Old Testament (mainly the Song of Songs and the Psalms), these emblems recall the pure and virginal nature of the Virgin.