de jonckheere old masters

Antwerp School

The Lamentation of Christ

Central panel: 26,5 x 7,5 cm
Lateral panel: 28,3 x 8 cm


From our study of this triptych, we believe this painting was produced in Antwerp around 1550 in the mannerist style. It has a range of characteristics that can be found in the works of artists from this era and in this town that was part of the former Netherlands at the time. It is a charming and precious example of the portable altarpieces produced to satisfy the needs of private devotion in the 16th century.

The subject featured in our triptych is that of the Lamentation of Christ, a theme of Christian iconography that appeared during the 12th century, but which rapidly became popular among artists. The episode, situated between the Descent from the Cross and the Burial of Jesus, isn't from the Gospels but certainly stems from the popular rite of Funerary Lamentations or the Mystical Meditations.

The scene portrayed on the central panel of the triptych is developed in the foreground. The Virgin Mary is embracing Christ's dead body, which is lying on the ground. Overcome by grief, she is supported by John the Baptist in turn. This group of three figures, placed in the centre of the painting, is accompanied by Joseph of Arimathea, shown on the left, who is holding the upper part of Christ semi-recumbent body. Dressed very sumptuously and wearing an Egyptian headdress, the man is mainly known for having asked Pontius Pilate for the authorisation to take Christ's body down from the cross. In the background, the episode preceding the Lamentation, i.e. the Descent from the Cross, is taking place on the hill of Golgotha. We can also see a town at the bottom of the hill, which is probably Jerusalem.

The scene and the vast landscape which unifies the composition continues onto the side panels. The Holy Women, each of whom is carrying a chalice of unguents, are part of the scene but they are depicted on the side panels. On the left panel, Nicodemus, whose hands are covered with a white cloth, is holding the crown of thorns, thus emphasising the presence of the holy relic.

There are two other figures on the back of the side panels which are depicted in grisailles. One of them is Saint Peter. A bearded, heavily built man, he is walking towards the figure represented on the other panel. The man is holding in his hands a book and a key. The artiste has chosen, however, to show him with just one key while according to the Gospel of Mathew there were more than one:

“I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven”( Gospel of Mathew, 16.19)

On the right panel, Archangel Michael, represented as a warrior, is shown while defeating the Devil depicted as an anthropomorphic figure, lying at his feet.

Provenance :
Private collection, Belgium