oil on panel
h 127.7 cm × w 109.5 cm
oil on panel
h 127.7 cm × w 109.5 cm
The original support, which has been sawn through crosswise, consists of four vertically grained oak planks (30.5, 23, 28.5 and 26.5 cm). It has been planed down to approx. 0.1-0.2 cm and transferred to a new panel, which is covered by a zinc plate. The white ground must have been applied in the frame. There are unpainted edges approx. 1 cm wide on all sides, and the barely visible remains of a barbe (painted surface: 125.5 x 107.5 cm). The underdrawing was made with a brush. It is a line drawing only, and some of the lines are remarkably thick. There is no hatching, apart from a few parallel lines by Louis’s nose in the scene at bottom left. The underdrawing was made rapidly, but not all the forms were prepared. There are considerable departures from the drawn composition and forms in the painted surface, in both the foreground and background. In addition, some figures, such as the musician in the left foreground and the four figures in the landscape, were only added at a later stage. The paint layers were applied thickly, and the painting technique is a little primitive (although this panel is painted more precisely than SK-A-3146). Gold was used for the crown and jewellery. The trees in the upper part of the composition were painted on top of the blue sky. Based on the reflection of the trees in ultraviolet light it can be assumed that the artist used copper green.
Poor. There is raised paint in the upper part of the composition and discoloured retouching along the joins. The varnish is very discoloured, and is matte in the retouchings.
? Commissioned by the inhabitants of Wieldrecht for the altar of St Lambert, Grote Kerk, Dordrecht;1 transferred to the St Christoffel- or Heelhaaksdoelen, Dordrecht, 1572;2 inventory, St Christoffel- or Heelhaaksdoelen, refectory, Dordrecht, 1651 (’t verdroncken lande altaris twee stucks’);3 inventory, St Christoffel- or Heelhaaksdoelen, refectory, Dordrecht, 28 November 1675, 1691 (‘De inundatie van Wieldrecht, d’anno 1421 bestaende in twee stucken’);4 from the St Christoffel- or Heelhaaksdoelen, nos. 39-40, fl. 2.80, to Willem de Bondt (?- 1811), 19 February 1801;5 …; sale, Benoni Verhelst (Ghent), Ghent (F. Verhulst), 10 May 1859 sqq., no. 384bis, to Count Joseph de Hemptinne;6 his son, Count Paul de Hemptinne (1851-1923), Ghent, October 1923;7 …; ? from a private collection, Bruges, to the dealer Jacques Goudstikker;8 from whom purchased by the museum with support from the Vereniging Rembrandt, 1933
Object number: SK-A-3145
Credit line: Purchased with the support of the Vereniging Rembrandt
Copyright: Public domain
Master of the St Elizabeth Panels (active 1490-1510)
The Master of the St Elizabeth Panels is an anonymous artist who owes his name to four panels in the Rijksmuseum, including scenes of the St Elizabeth’s Day flood of 18-19 November 1421 (SK-A-3145, SK-A-3146, SK-A-3147-A, SK-A-3147-B). Although they were once attributed to the Master of Rhenen, so called after The Conquest of Rhenen by John II of Cleves in 1499 (SK-A-1727), Buijsen convincingly demonstrated in 1988 that there were in fact two separate artists at work. Since the flood panels were made for the Grote Kerk in Dordrecht, this painter may have lived there. Nothing is known about the St Elizabeth Master, and no other paintings can be attributed to him.
Hoogewerff I, 1936, pp. 498-509, V, 1947, p. 116; Buijsen 1988; Helmus 1991; Van der Sterre in Turner 1996, XX, pp. 754-55, 760
This panel and three others (SK-A-3146, SK-A-3147-A, SK-A-3147-B) originally formed two wings painted on both sides from an altarpiece made for the Grote Kerk in Dordrecht.9 The flood is depicted on the outer wings (SK-A-3147-A, SK-A-3147-B). A massive storm surge inundated the Grote Waard polder on the night of 18 to 19 November 1421, and the flood got its name from the 19 November feast-day of St Elizabeth of Hungary, also known as Elizabeth of Thuringia (1207-31). Scenes from her life are shown on the other two panels (SK-A-3145; SK-A-3146), which were originally the inner wings of the altarpiece. The central panel has not survived and it is not known what it portrayed, or whether it was painted or carved. The altarpiece very probably stood on the altar dedicated to St Lambert in the Grote Kerk. It was commissioned by descendants of the inhabitants of Wieldrecht, one of the villages destroyed in the flood, who settled in Dordrecht after the event.10
The right wing (SK-A-3147-B) shows the breaching of the dike near Wieldrecht. In the centre of the left wing (SK-A-3147-A) is Dordrecht, to which people are fleeing with their belongings, although some have died as they tried to escape the rising waters. Several villages and rivers are labelled with their names in the landscape, which extends over both panels.11 Near the village of Houweningen, halfway up the left panel, there is a depiction of the legend about a little girl called Beatrijs, who supposedly survived the flood because a cat kept her cradle balanced in the water.12
The scenes on the two panels appear at first sight to show a continuous landscape looking from Dordrecht to the east and south-east. The left wing is a view along the river Merwede, with places like Papendrecht and Sliedrecht. Further back are Almkerk, Waspik, Raamsdonk and, in the top right corner, Geertruidenberg. Although the topography of the left wing is fairly accurate, a great deal of licence was taken with that on the right wing. The artist shifted his vantage point, folded the landscape in like a fan, and looked more towards the south. As a result, places like Wieldrecht, Cillaarshoec, Strijen, Maasdam and Puttershoek, which are all south-west of Dordrecht, have ended up on the right edge of the panel.13 The horizon is also closer to the viewer than in the other painting.14 The artist adopted a certain cartographic approach in the left panel, but in the other one he modified the landscape in order to show as much of the Grote Waard polder as possible. It is possible that Wieldrecht was also moved to a position at top right to show the course that the water took as it drove the donors’ ancestors towards the safety of Dordrecht. The depiction of the St Elizabeth’s Day flood is a remarkably early record of such an event from the recent past.
The inner wings have various scenes from the life of St Elizabeth.15 Reading them anticlockwise from top left to the right foreground, the left wing (SK-A-3145) shows Elizabeth, accompanied by her servants Guta and Isentrudis, making a vow to her first counsellor, Rüdiger. In the left foreground is the wedding feast of Elizabeth and Louis IV of Thuringia in the Wartburg. The guests include King Andrew II of Hungary, Elizabeth’s father, and Sophie, Louis’s mother. On the right the couple part as Louis goes off on the crusade. Here Elizabeth is making a second vow, to Master Conrad of Marburg, her second counsellor, swearing that if Louis dies she will observe conventual celibacy. The scene of the top left on the right wing (SK-A-3146) probably shows Elizabeth’s expulsion from the Wartburg after Louis’s death, which is being announced by a mourner dressed in black. In the left foreground she is tending the sick in the hospital she founded. On the right she is on her deathbed, attended by Master Conrad, and two angels carry her soul up to heaven after she has died. The final scene, in the centre background, shows her being buried by Franciscan monks.16
All the panels have an elaborate underdrawing done with the brush, but it was not followed closely in the paint.17 On the panels showing the flood, rapid curved lines indicate the shapes of the landscape, with ovals for the trees. The places in the Grote Waard were underdrawn, usually with a prominent spire (fig. a), but the figures were not prepared (fig. b).18 When the composition was painted, villages, towns, church towers and trees were moved or altered relative to the underdrawing (fig. a). These changes could have been prompted by a desire for topographical accuracy or by a search for an artistically satisfying composition. The way in which the artist manipulated the landscape suggests that the latter is more likely. This is supported by the underdrawings on the inner wings, where a similar approach was adopted, particularly in the landscape and the buildings in the background of the scene with the wedding feast. The way in which the towers there were shifted away from their underdrawn outlines is very close to the treatment of the flood scenes (compare fig. a and fig. c). The figure scenes were also underdrawn, which is only logical, since they are the main subjects, and once again similar licence was taken. There are many alterations, some of them major. For example, the man playing the shawm in the immediate foreground was not prepared but was painted over the underdrawing of the table and the musician behind him (fig. d). This change was made before the tiled floor was painted, for it makes allowance for his trailing cloak. In the other panel, SK-A-3145, Elizabeth is now supporting a man, but in the underdrawing she stood upright with her gaze to the left (fig. e). She also has a nimbus in the underdrawing, which is absent in all the other scenes. It is possible that she was portrayed in a similarly static pose on the centre panel of the altarpiece, which would account for this change. A radical alteration was made in the middleground and background. The green area between the two foreground buildings was probably occupied by her burial in the underdrawing (fig. f). That scene, though, was moved up the panel, where originally there were buildings in the underdrawing. These changes were probably related to the addition of the angels carrying Elizabeth’s soul up to heaven. They were not prepared in the underdrawing, but were added over the underdrawn outlines of the building. The fact that the architectural details take the painted angels into account indicates that changes were also made during the painting process, as was the case with the added musician in the left panel.
Although it is not impossible that the donor demanded some of these changes, one can only conclude from the fact that they are so similar that they were personal preferences on the part of the artist. Differences in the painterly quality of the inner and outer wings suggest that several hands worked on the paint layer. However, the similarity of the approach to the underdrawing points more to a single artistic personality being responsible for all four scenes.19 The panels can be dated c. 1490-95 on the evidence of the dress and shoes worn by the figures.20 The dissimilarities between the underdrawing of these panels and that of The Conquest of Rhenen by John II of Cleves in 1499 (SK-A-1727) make it clear that these works were made by two different artists, as demonstrated by Buijsen.21
There are a number of later repetitions of the flood scenes on the outer wings, and in each case they were conflated into a single painting (fig. g).22 There is also an anonymous painting of around 1620 with the same subject but a different composition.23
Casier 1923a, pp. 5-11; Casier 1923b, pp. 249-55; Enthoven 1925; Hoogewerff I, 1936, pp. 498-509, V, 1947, p. 116; Buijsen 1988; Helmus 1991; Helmus 1992; Roodnat 2006; Helmus in Rotterdam 2008a, pp. 324-29, no. 60
1934, p. 244, no. 2028a-c (as Master of Rhenen); 1960, pp. 5-6, no. 39 E1 (only SK-3147-A/B; as Dutch school, 15th century, copy after a lost original, presumably by a master of Dordrecht); 1976, p. 633, nos. A 3145, A 3146, A 3147-A/B