oil on panel
support: h 88.7 cm × w 104.3 cm
oil on panel
support: h 88.7 cm × w 104.3 cm
The support consists of four vertically grained oak planks (24.1, 25.7, 27.4 and 26.8 cm). X-rays show that the planks are butt-joined and aligned with one dowel, approximately one-third of the way up from the bottom. This suggests that the panel was probably cut from a larger panel (oral communication Albert Glatigny, April 2007.) The panel has been thinned to a thickness of approx. 0.9 cm and cradled. Dendrochronology has shown that the four planks came from the same tree and that the youngest heartwood ring was formed in 1470. The planks could have been ready for use by 1481, but a date in or after 1495 is more likely. The white calcium carbonate ground was applied to the panel in the frame. There are unpainted edges on all sides (approx. 0.7 cm on the left and right sides, approx. 1 cm at the top, and approx. 1.5 cm at the bottom), and most of the barbe is preserved (painted surface: 86.6 x 103 cm). A detailed underdrawing was applied to the ground with a brush in a wet medium (fig. a, fig. b, fig. c). The drapery folds of the foreground figures was prepared particularly elaborately. The architecture was carefully constructed in the underdrawing with the aid of a ruler. The artist clearly sought a convincing perspective in the lines of the buildings, for although there is no true vanishing point, the lines do almost meet at one point. It appears that the underdrawing was then covered with a thin, greyish, pigmented oil layer, upon which the paint layer was built up with clear reserves in a fairly traditional way. The canon kneeling on the far right was added at a later stage, partly over St Augustine’s robe and the other canon (fig. c). The structure of the paint layers is quite simple, generally with just one or two layers, with the exception of the red and green passages, which have three or four in the shaded areas. The Virgin’s blue robe was built up with lead white and azurite, the purple undergarment with azurite and red lake. The red robes of St Jerome and Elizabeth are a mixture of vermilion, red lake and a little lead white, with delicate hatchings in a deep red organic lake. The green is a mixture of verdigris, lead white and a little yellow ochre.
Poor. The painting is extensively abraded, especially in the thinly painted areas. There are many small paint losses throughout, and significant paint losses along the central join and in the dresses of the Virgin and Elizabeth. There are large areas of discoloured copper green in the grass and trees.
…; ? commissioned for an Augustinian priory;1 ...; dealer, N. Steinmeyer, Cologne, c. 1902;2 …; from the dealer F. Kleinberger, Paris, fl. 4,507, to the museum, with support from the Vereniging Rembrandt, 1907; on loan to the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, 2004-09
Object number: SK-A-2312
Credit line: Purchased with the support of the Vereniging Rembrandt
Copyright: Public domain
Master of the Spes Nostra (active 1490-1520)
The Master of the Spes Nostra was named by Hoogewerff in 1937 after the painting in the Rijksmuseum, which Friedländer had earlier attributed to the Master of Delft. According to Hoogewerff, the artist was active in the last decade of the 15th century, probably in Delft. His work shows affinity with that of the Master of Delft, but he could also have been active in Gouda or Leiden. Although Hoogewerff tried to attribute an Adoration of the Christ Child in Brussels to the same hand,3 the Rijksmuseum painting is generally considered to be this master’s only known work.
Hoogewerff II, 1937, pp. 278-82; Vollmer in Thieme/Becker XXXVII, 1950, p. 316
(Jan Piet Filedt Kok)
In the foreground of this painting there is a half-open grave with a semi-decomposed body. Kneeling on the left are two canons and St Jerome in a cardinal’s robes with a lion, and on the right there are two more kneeling canons with St Augustine holding a heart.4 The white-clad priests flanking the grave are identified by their tonsures, white surplices and black, asymmetrical copes as canons regular of the Augustinian order. The crossed bands on the skeleton’s chest, which is a stole that priests wear underneath the chasuble, show that the body is that of a priest. The dead man speaks to us in the inscription below the grave: ‘Whosoever passeth by, behold and lament’. Below that is written: ‘I am what thou shall be, what thou art I have been; pray for me, I beseech thee’. The inscription on the gravestone reads ‘May they rest in peace’. The plural pronoun indicates that the painting is an epitaph for the four canons depicted in it. It is not known whether there was a source for this text.5
Seated on a grassy bank on the edge of an enclosed garden in the middleground is the pregnant Virgin, who is being greeted by Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist. This is the Visitation, where the Virgin and Elizabeth usually greet each other standing up. As far as is known, this scene of a seated Virgin and Elizabeth is unique. The door to the hortus conclusus is open, as it is in the pictures by Geertgen tot Sint Jans (SK-A-3901), the Master of Delft (SK-A-3141), and the Master of the Virgo inter Virgines (SK-A-501).
In the garden behind the Visitation are three musician angels. The Virgin, now seated under a tree, and another angel are watching over the Christ Child, who is playing with a hobbyhorse. There are two women by the gatehouse on the right. The Visitation and the scene of Christ’s childhood allude to the imminence of mankind’s redemption. The peacocks in the cloister garden also stand for eternal life.6
The scene in the foreground confronted the viewer with death, but the scene just behind it gives a glimmer of hope. It contains a clear reference to the ‘Salve regina’, a medieval hymn that was often sung at funerals.7 It is likely that this painting served as an epitaph and was placed near a tomb. Its purpose must have been to encourage the viewer to meditate on his or her own mortality.8
It looks as if the background is meant to be a priory garden, with a church on the left and a refectory on the right, possibly the priory of the canons depicted in the foreground. Their asymmetrical black copes of cloth or sheepskin, known as ‘cacullae’, make it likely that they were canons regular of the general chapter of Sion.9 They were priests who had sworn the monastic oaths and lived as a community following the rule of St Augustine. There were no fewer than 15 priories of this chapter in the County of Holland.10
Van Luttervelt suggested in 1952 that the painting was commissioned by the Augustinian Priory of Our Lady on Mount Sion near Delft, whose patron saints were Augustine and Jerome. This seems unlikely, for this epitaph would never have survived the fire at the priory in 1544, which completely destroyed the nave of the church, the iconoclasm of 1566, and the demolition of the priory in 1572.11 Bangs identified the four canons as the four regulars who were successive rectors of Mariënpoel Convent near Leiden around 1500, who died soon after one another: Johannes Crispiani and Gijsbert N., who both died in 1496, followed by Gerard Dirksz in 1504 and Sebastian Fransz in 1507. The latter would be the canon on the far right, who was added at a later stage.12 Other authors proposed locating the epitaph in the regulars’ Priory of Our Lady of the Visitation, just outside the gates of Haarlem,13 or in the Augustinian priory of Hieronymusdal dedicated to St Jerome, which is generally called Lopsen, in Oegstgeest near Leiden. The latter is an interesting idea, because manuscripts were illuminated in the priory, and painters were active there in the late 15th century.14 However, there are no solid arguments to support any of these options.15
Infrared reflectography revealed a brushed underdrawing for almost the entire painting. The drapery folds in the foreground figures were built up with an extensive network of hatchings (fig. a), the small figures were defined with a few lines, and the architecture was painstakingly constructed with the aid of a ruler (fig. b). One notable feature is the use of delicate, modelling hatchings in a dark red glaze in the red parts of the garments of St Jerome and Elizabeth which are closely related to the underdrawing in both style and manner of drawing. The canon on the far right was added at a later stage, and was painted partly on top of St Augustine’s robe and the other canon (fig. c).
The Rijksmuseum bought the painting in Paris in 1906 as The Burial of a Patriarch, at which time the body in the grave was completely overpainted with a white shroud on which there were a bishop’s mitre, a crosier and a processional cross (fig. d). This overpaint was removed in 1914, and from then until 1960 the painting was called Allegory of the Vanity of Human Life in the Rijksmuseum’s catalogues.16
The painting, which had been published in 1902 as a work of the Cologne school,17 was bought by the museum in 1907 as Dutch school from the end of the 15th century. Friedländer mentioned it in 1932 as probably a painting by the Master of Delft, and felt that the background figures, in particular, were typical of his work.18 In 1937, though, Hoogewerff rightly drew attention to the stylistic differences, notably in the types of figure and the palette, and gave the unknown artist the ad hoc name of the Master of the Spes Nostra on the basis of the allegorical nature of the scene.19 So far this is the only known painting by the artist, and it can be dated around 1500 on stylistic grounds, which is not contradicted either by the dendrochronology or Bangs’s hypothesis outlined above.
Aldenhove 1902, p. 300 (as Master of the Legend of St Ursula); Friedländer X, 1932, p. 127 (as Master of Delft ?); Hoogewerff II, 1937, p. 278; Luttervelt 1952, p. 70; Schulte Nordholt 1963; ENP X, 1973, p. 76, no. 62 I; Heller 1976, p. 184; Bangs 1979, pp. 23-24; Moerman and Lemmens in Delft 1979, pp. 64-67, 146-47; Van Bueren in Utrecht 1999, pp. 205-07, no. 70; Van Os in Van Os 'et al.' 2000, pp. 80-81; Filedt Kok in Rotterdam 2008a, pp. 287-90, no. 54
1907, p. 385, no. 43a (as Dutch school, second half 15th century, _The Burial of a Patriarch_); 1934, p. 5, no. 43a (as close to the Master of Delft, 'Allegory of the vanity of human life'); 1960, pp. 196-97, no. 1538 T1; 1976, p. 637, no. A 2312 (as 'Four Augustinian canons regular meditating beside an open grave on the transitoriness of human life in the presence of Sts Augustine and Jerome, and Mary and Elizabeth, enacting the visitation')