oil on panel
support: h 62.4 cm × w 48.3 cm × h 61.0 cm × w 46.2 cm
oil on panel
support: h 62.4 cm × w 48.3 cm × h 61.0 cm × w 46.2 cm
The original support consists of two vertically grained oak planks (22.2 and 24 cm). The original panel has been planed down to approx. 0.1 cm and transferred to a new oak panel (which consists of three planks) with wax (original painted surface: 61 x 46.2 cm). There is not enough left of the original panel to allow for dendrochronology. The light-coloured ground is visible through the paint layers; there are no unpainted edges nor remains of a barbe. Infrared reflectography revealed only a few lines of an underdrawing, mainly visible in the saint’s eyes and the face of the kneeling figure. Changes can be observed in the paint layers in infrared as well as in the X-ray. St Agnes’s hand was first turned towards her breast and the ring was painted higher up (fig. c). Geertruy’s head was originally much larger and was reserved higher up, as can be seen from the infrared reflectogram assembly (fig. d). The inscribed banderole was broadened slightly in the paint layers, and the lower point was brought closer to Geertruy’s face. The left-hand decorative border of the cloth of honour behind St Agnes encroaches on the paint layers to the left. The cushion on the bench in the left background was enlarged considerably. Impasto was used to suggest texture, especially for the brocaded cloth of honour (possibly pressed brocade), St Agnes’s green cloak and the pearls. St Agnes’s green cloak was painted wet in wet, with visible brushmarking. The gilding in several areas, such as the letters and decoration of the tiles and St Agnes’s cloak, was applied with pigmented oil mordant. Parts of the background were painted on top of a previous paint layer: the tiles on an orange ground and the column on the left on top of the tiled floor.
Fair. The transfer of the support makes it difficult to determine the present condition and original format of the panel. There are a number of discoloured retouchings, for example in the lamb’s tail and St Agnes’s face.
…; collection Ms Bayne Jardine, Bracknell, Berkshire;1…; sale, Major-General Sir Allan Adair, The Marchioness Curzon of Kedleston, Lord Claud N. Hamilton, Mrs Violet Heyworth et al., London (Christie’s), 17 May 1957, no. 107, as Bruges school, £ 630, to Major;2 …; from the dealer A. Kaufmann, London, £ 4,300 (fl. 45,300), to the museum, 1957
Object number: SK-A-3926
Copyright: Public domain
Anonymous, Dordrecht (?)
Standing in front of a brocaded cloth of honour in a room seen through a painted architectonic frame is St Agnes with her attribute of a lamb. She is displaying a ring, the emblem of her mystic marriage to Christ.3 Kneeling on her left is a woman with a banderole issuing from her mouth and curling around a pillar in the window opening, in which she begs St Agnes to pray for her. Hanging on the other pillar in the window is a family coat of arms which identifies the woman as Geertruy (Dircksdr) Haeck-Van Slingelandt van der Tempel (c. 1425-67). At first it was thought that she was the wife of Adriaen Haeck, a councillor, treasurer and burgomaster of Dordrecht between 1436 and 1449. Since he disappears from the records after 1449 it was assumed that Geertruy entered the Convent of St Agnes in Dordrecht after his death, and that the painting was made on that occasion.4
However, it is now known that Geertruy was married not to Adriaen Haeck but to Herman Haeck Hermansz (?-1488), a member of the timber merchants’ guild in the city. They married in 1441 and had children. Herman died in 1488, surviving his wife by over 20 years.5 Although the sitter’s attire closely resembles a nun’s habit, the identification argues against this. There are other scenes in which lay, married women wear clothes that resemble habits.6
The fact that Geertruy was never a widow and would thus not have entered the convent dedicated to St Agnes in Dordrecht disposes of the suggestion that the painting commemorates that event. This raises the question of why she is depicted with this particular saint.
The panel could have hung in the convent as a memorial tablet for Geertruy, but it is also conceivable that it was placed in the Convent of St Agnes in Schoonhoven, for a document of 1455 states that two sisters of hers, Catharina (?-after 1488) and Cornelia, were both nuns there.7
It is possible, then, that the painting was only executed as a memorial tablet after Geertruy’s death in 1467.8 Since St Agnes’s pointed shoes went out of fashion in the 1480s, the painting must have been made before then.9
The choice of St Agnes has been associated with the Devotio Moderna and the adoption of its ideas by the chapter in Windesheim, to which the Dordrecht Convent of St Agnes began subscribing around 1426. That movement had a particular veneration of St Agnes, and her mystic marriage to Christ encouraged imitation among the nuns, who also saw themselves as brides of Christ.10 It is not just the large ring that St Agnes is displaying that alludes to the mystic marriage. The lamb jumping up at her is also seen as a symbol of Christ, further emphasising the marriage. A similar depiction of the lamb leaping up at the saint is found in the Book of Hours of Catherine of Cleves.11 A miniature in another Book of Hours (Dutch, c. 1475-80) shows not only the lamb but also the ring in the saint’s hand (fig. a).12
The letters A, M, and R in the foreground floor tiles are sometimes interpreted as standing for ‘Agnes Martyra Romana’.13 However, Heller 1976, p. 100, considers this unlikely, since there are other letters, such as an X and a D, in the tiles in the background.
A photograph taken before the restoration in 1957-58 shows that the architectonic frame was overpainted (fig. b).14 Châtelet assumed on the basis of the odd asymmetry of the frame that the scene may have been cut down and that it was once part of a larger painting.15 The absence of a barbe or unpainted edges shows that the panel was trimmed on all sides, but it is not possible to say by how much. The fact that the floor extends past the pillar on the left certainly suggests that the panel was once larger there.
Although Geertruy lived in Dordrecht, and the artist is generally located in that city, there are no comparable paintings from there or elsewhere from this period, which makes both the dating and the painter’s origins uncertain.
Amsterdam 1958, pp. 41-42, no. 5; Heller 1976, pp. 100-01, 170, no. 7; Châtelet 1981, pp. 208-09, no. 40; Van Bueren in Utrecht 1999, pp. 243-44, no. 93; Sigmond 2001, cols. 541-43; Gelfland/Gibson 2002, p. 135; Diskant Muir 2004, pp. 145, 148-49; Sigmond 2004, cols. 258-63
1960, pp. 9-10, no. 131 H1; 1976, p. 685, no. A 3926 (as c. 1455)