Art/ Collection/ Art Object

The Fifteen Mysteries and the Virgin of the Rosary

Netherlandish Painter (possibly Goswijn van der Weyden, active by 1491, died after 1538), ca. 1515–20
Oil on wood
(a) 9 7/8 x 21 in. (25.1 x 53.3 cm); (b–p) each 5 x 4 1/8 in. (12.7 x 10.5 cm)
Credit Line:
Anonymous Bequest, 1984
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 626
This miniature altarpiece relates to the cult of the Virgin of the Rosary. Depicted in the upper registers are fifteen mysteries associated with the Virgin's life: five joyful, five sorrowful, and five glorious. The scene at the base illustrates a miracle by which a man was saved from death when he prayed to the Virgin of the Rosary. Each Hail Mary he recited became a rose that the Christ Child then wove into a garland. The background landscape portrays the Coudenberg Palace in Brussels, suggesting that the picture was commissioned by a member of the Habsburg court, possibly the lords of Ravensteyn.
The iconography of this painting relates to the cult of the Virgin of the Rosary. The "rosary" refers to both the series of prayers recited and the string of prayer beads used as a memory device. Dominik of Prussia, a fifteenth-century Carthusian monk, recommended that worship of the Virgin of the Rosary be split into fifty events from the lives of Christ and the Virgin, known as mysteries. One mystery was assigned to each Ave Maria prayer in a chaplet (one third of the full rosary). The further diffusion of the cult was largely due to the work of Alanus de Rupe, a Dominican monk who founded the Confraternity of the Psalter of the Glorious Mary in Douai around 1475. His followers continued the advancement of the cult, and the Fifteen Mysteries of the Rosary was first published in Unser Lieben Frawen Psalter, a devotional handbook dedicated to the Virgin, in 1483. Painted on a single panel which was cut into sixteen parts, the fifteen mysteries presented in the Museum's miniature altarpiece are divided into three registers of five images each: the five Joyful Mysteries (the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Nativity, the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, and the Finding of the Child in the Temple); the five Sorrowful Mysteries (the Agony in the Garden, the Scourging of Christ, the Mocking of Christ, Christ Carrying the Cross, and the Crucifixion); and the five Glorious Mysteries (the Resurrection, the Ascension, the Descent of the Holy Spirit, the Death of the Virgin, and the Coronation of the Virgin).

The lower portion of the painting shows the Virgin of the Rosary as Queen of Heaven. She stands on a tiled floor below a baldachin, and carries the Christ Child, who holds the end of a chaplet represented as a garland of roses. This garland consists of fifty white roses, separated into groups of ten, or decades, interspersed with five larger red roses. Like the beads of a hand-held rosary, each smaller rose represents an Ave Maria prayer ("Hail Mary"), and each larger one a Paternoster ("Our Father"). The Child raises his right hand in blessing to a kneeling gentleman, who is under attack from three men in armor, and from whose mouth a branch with three white roses emerges. This represents a miracle associated with the rosary, where a man was saved from his attackers when he knelt and prayed, and the Virgin of the Rosary appeared. Each Ave Maria he recited became a rose, which the Virgin wove into a garland. Although the armor of the attackers is somewhat archaic, the kneeling figure wears contemporary clothing, which may indicate that his likeness is that of the donor of the painting. To the left of the Virgin kneels Saint Dominic who, due to a mistake of identification with Dominic of Prussia, was traditionally associated with the rosary cult. He is identified by his attribute, a dog with a burning torch in his mouth. Behind the saint kneels a pope, an emperor, and a king, who together represent the Christian Estates. Their appearances seem somewhat generic, but it is possible that they are meant to represent the contemporary Leo X, Maximilian I, and a young Charles V, respectively.

Bauman (1989) relates the iconography and composition of this ensemble picture with a somewhat obscure woodcut, signed and dated by Brother Francisco Doménech in 1488. A modern impression of this print can be found in the Museum's collection (MMA 57.526). This print shows the same arrangement of the fifteen mysteries in three groups of five, above a similar scene of the Virgin of the Rosary flanked by the Christian Estates and the miracle of the nobleman who prayed the rosary. The background landscape of the bottom scene of the MMA altarpiece accurately depicts the park and palace of the dukes of Brabant in Brussels, known as the Coudenberg, as it appeared in the early sixteenth century. At the upper left corner, the church of Sainte Gudule in Brussels is recognizable. This accurate depiction corresponds with a sketch of the area, made by Albrecht Dürer on his visit to the Netherlands in 1520–21 (Kupferstichkabinett, Vienna). It seems likely that this ensemble was commissioned by someone in Brussels who was associated with the Hapsburg court, the Dominicans, and the cult of the Rosary. One possible identification for the patron is a lord of the Ravensteyns, a prestigious family of Brussels, who had given the Dominicans the part of their hôtel that was contiguous with the Dominican convent and church, established in 1464 (Sintobin 1998).

Some scholars have identified the artist as Goswijn van der Weyden, a grandson of the illustrious Netherlandish painter Rogier van der Weyden. Held (1943) was the first to suggest this identification and he compared the style of these scenes to Goswijn’s retardataire style, and the millefleur ground cover in the bottom section to the artist’s 1507 Antonius Tsgrooten Triptych (Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp). There is also a stylistic similarity to Goswijn’s Crucifixion Triptych of about 1517 (Museum of Fine Arts, Springfield, Massachusetts). The date of about 1515–20 is due to the connections with the work of Dürer, both the landscape sketch mentioned above, and his Small Passion, a woodcut series from 1511 (MMA 1975.653.25), which strongly influenced the Annunciation scene in this altarpiece.

[Maryan W. Ainsworth 2012]
Zacharie Astruc, Paris (until 1878; sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, April 11–12, 1878, no. 1, as the "Le Triomphe de la Rose rouge" by Hans Memling); [Haro, Paris, until 1892; sale, Galerie Sedelmeyer, Paris, May 30–31, 1892, no. 30, as "Le Triomphe de la Rose rouge," attributed to the School of Memling, for Fr 7,600]; Claude Lafontaine, Paris; [Jacques Seligmann, New York, by 1922–24; sold to Macy]; V. Everit Macy, New York (1924–38; posthumous sale, American Art Association-Anderson Galleries, New York, January 6–8, 1938, no. 325, as "Virgin and Child with Saints, and Fifteen Scenes from the Passion," attributed to the School of Antwerp, early 16th century); [F. Schnittjer & Son, New York, until 1943; sale, Parke-Bernet, New York, January 14, 1943, no. 71, as "Madonna of the Rosary with Donors and Saints and Fifteen Scenes from the Passion," attributed to School of Antwerp, early 16th century, for $1,900]; Maurice Dekker, New York (from 1943); private collection, Honolulu (by 1956–d. 1984)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "From Van Eyck to Bruegel: Early Netherlandish Painting in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," September 22, 1998–February 21, 1999, no. 91.

Paul Lefort et al. in Collection de M. Z. Astruc, tableaux anciens et modernes, aquarelles et sculptures. Hôtel Drouot, Paris. April 11–12, 1878, pp. 6–7, 19, no. 1, catalogue it as the "Triumph of the Red Rose" by Hans Memling, although Lefort appears uncertain about an attribution; describe it as the reconciliation between the Lancasters and the Yorks (the War of the Roses), with the assistance of the Virgin.

Julius S. Held. Letter to Maurice Dekker. March 23, 1943, as possibly by Goswijn van der Weyden; dates it about 1515–20 "determined roughly on stylistic grounds"; states that the Annunciation of the Virgin is clearly based on a Dürer woodcut published in 1511, providing a terminus post quem for all the panels; identifies the two saints surrounding the Virgin as Sts. Dominic and Albert of Louvain; observes that the appearance of St. Gudule "makes it likely that the painting was done by a Brussels artist and perhaps also for a Brussels patron"; surmises that the painting was executed for someone "particuarly devoted to the veneration of the rosary, perhaps a member of the confraternity of the Holy Rosary, which was founded in Cologne in 1475 and spread rapidly in Germany and the Netherlands".

Guy C. Bauman. "A Rosary Picture with a View of the Park of the Ducal Palace in Brussels, Possibly by Goswijn van der Weyden." Metropolitan Museum Journal 24 (1989), pp. 135–51, ill., supports Held's dating of 1515–20; observes that a little-known woodcut signed and dated Francisco Domenech 1488 is "remarkably similar in design to the Museum's painting and may have served as a model for the later artist"; compares our panels with Goswijn's documented "Triptych of Antonius Tsgrooten," painted in 1507 (Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp), as well as his Crucifixion Triptych (Museum of Fine Arts, Springfield, Mass.); calls the landscape in the larger panel "nearly cartographic" in its portrayal of the park of the palace of the Dukes of Brabant in Brussels and recognizes the church at the upper left corner as the cathedral of St. Gudule; comments on the agreement of the landscape with Albrecht Dürer's 1520 drawing, "View of the Park of the Ducal Palace in Brussels" (Akademie der bildenden Künste, Vienna).

Véronique Sintobin in From Van Eyck to Bruegel: Early Netherlandish Painting in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Ed. Maryan W. Ainsworth and Keith Christiansen. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1998, pp. 63, 134, 319, 347–49, no. 91, ill. (color), dates it about 1515–20.

Pierre Anagnostopoulos and Jean Houssiau. L'ancien palais du Coudenberg. Brussels, [2006], p. 31, ill. (lower panel), as attributed to Goswijn van der Weyden; discuss in detail the view of Brussels in the main scene and note that it is based on Durer's drawing [see Ref. Bauman 1989].

Véronique Bücken in L'héritage de Rogier van der Weyden: La peinture à Bruxelles 1450–1520. Ed. Brigitte de Patoul and Beatrijs Wolters van der Wey. Exh. cat., Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels. Tielt, 2013, p. 22, fig. 5 (color).

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