Art/ Collection/ Collection/ Art Object

Four Scenes from the Passion

Artist:
Follower of Bernard van Orley (Netherlandish, ca. 1520)
Medium:
Oil on wood
Dimensions:
11 3/4 x 11 3/8 in. (29.8 x 28.9 cm)
Classification:
Paintings
Credit Line:
Bequest of George Blumenthal, 1941
Accession Number:
41.190.14
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 626
This panel was probably the centerpiece of a small triptych intended to assist its owner in the empathetic experience of Christ's Passion. Depicted in four delicately painted miniature scenes are the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, Christ Bearing the Cross, the Crucifixion, and the Lamentation. In this densely ornamental work, elaborate fictive frames with statues of Old Testament prophets in Gothic niches surround the narrative episodes that are close in style to paintings by Bernard van Orley. The poses and gestures of the figures also reveal an acquaintance with Albrecht Dürer's Engraved Passion of 1507–12.
In the early sixteenth century artists began to produce extended narrative cycles of the Life of Christ in both panel painting and manuscript illumination. This was in response to a new form of piety stimulated by books such as Pseudo-Bonaventure’s Meditations on the Life of Christ. This text, written around 1300 and disseminated widely through printed editions at the end of the fifteenth century, recommended pious contemplation of the individual events of the Savior’s life as an effective form of devotional practice. Multiscene altarpieces exemplified this mode of devotion by encouraging step-by-step identification with the joys and sorrows of Christ’s life. The present panel was probably the center of a small triptych, which would have aided its owner in the empathetic experience of Christ's Passion. Depicted in the four delicately painted miniature scenes are the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, Christ Bearing the Cross, the Crucifixion, and the Lamentation. The episodes are divided by an intricate trompe-l’oeil frame, which includes a column and a plinth supporting two statuettes of Old Testament prophets that stand beneath elaborate Gothic canopies, as well as a triad of delicate foliate motifs above each scene. These elements must have been part of a larger ensemble, but the reconstruction of the original altarpiece is not straightforward. A small panel depicting the Noli Me Tangere encounter between Christ and Mary Magdalen (private collection, Switzerland) retains parts of an identical decorative framing and shows a setting and figures that are close to those of the Museum's work. Since this fragment is similar in height to each of the MMA scenes, but narrower in its horizontal dimension, it may have formed the upper part of one of the lateral wings, each of which displayed two scenes and a framing device wider than this panel’s (see Farmer 1967 and 1981). In such a triptych the three missing episodes could well have been a Resurrection, an Ascension, and Christ Appearing to His Mother. However, a second fragment, representing Saint Dominic and Saint Peter of Verona in a landscape (art market, Claude Vittet, Paris, 2001), has also been connected to the MMA altarpiece. The two standing saints may have appeared on the exterior of the triptych, since the interior wings would most likely not have combined narrative and non-narrative representations. Alternatively, one of the two fragments could have belonged to another, closely related altarpiece produced in the same workshop, where the designs must have been kept and reused. A similar, though not identical architectural framework appears also in another panel (art market, De Boer, Amsterdam, 1971), depicting four scenes of the Passion (the Agony in the Garden, the Crucifixion, the Lamentation and the Resurrection), which seems to have been painted in the same studio, but by a different artist (Ainsworth 1998).

The present painting may have been executed in the early 1520s. Certain figure motifs reveal an acquaintance with Albrecht Dürer's Engraved Passion of 1507–12 that was widely disseminated in the region after the German master had visited the Netherlands in 1520–21. Overall, the diminutive Passion scenes are strongly influenced by the compositions and figure types found in Bernard van Orley’s paintings of the 1520s. The miniature-like scenes surrounding the Virgin in the master’s paintings of the Seven Sorrows of Mary (Galleria Colonna, Rome; Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp) are especially relevant. An animated rhythm conveyed by the figures’ poses and gestures enhances and characterizes both Van Orley’s and the MMA panel’s narrative scenes. The palette of light tonalities, which imbues the museum’s painting with an ethereal quality, deviates, however, from Van Orley’s more usual range of deeply saturated primary colors and rejects an attribution to the master himself. Until more information is gained about Van Orley’s close students and followers, this panel must be assigned to an anonymous artist in his circle.

[Maryan W. Ainsworth 2013]
Inscription: Inscribed (on cross): I,N,R,I,
Ramon Gil de la Cuadra, Madrid; Benito Garriga, Madrid (until 1890; sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, March 24, 1890, no. 18, as "Scènes de la Passion," without attribution); Léon de Somzée, Brussels (by 1892–1904; his sale, J. Fievez, Brussels, May 26, 1904, vol. 2, no. 549, as School of Antwerp, late 15th century); [Fischer Galleries, New York, until 1912; sold to Blumenthal]; George Blumenthal, New York (1912–d. 1941; cat., vol. 1, 1926, pl. 47, as Flemish School of Brussels)
London. Burlington Fine Arts Club. "Masters of the Netherlandish and Allied Schools of XV. and Early XVI. Centuries," 1892, no. 27 (as School of Ghent, lent by Léon Somzée).

London. New Gallery. "Exhibition of Pictures by Masters of the Flemish and British Schools," 1899–1900, no. 15 (as a work of the Early Flemish School, lent by Léon Somzée).

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. 90 (as by a follower of Bernaert van Orley).

Collection de M. Benito Garriga de Madrid: Tableaux anciens. Hôtel Drouot, Paris. March 24, 1890, p. 19, no. 18, notes that this panel has been attributed to various artists, including Simon Marmion and Albrecht Dürer or his school; sees German influence in the style of the architecture; notes that it was formerly owned by Ramon Gil de la Cuadra, director of the "musée de Madrid".

[Max J.] Friedländer. "Die Leihausstellung der New Gallery in London, Januar–März 1900.—Hauptsächlich niederländische Gemälde des XV. und XVI. Jahrhunderts." Repertorium für Kunstwissenschaft 23 (1900), pp. 255–56, as from about 1520, reminiscent of Mabuse's [Gossart's] early work.

"Aus der Sammlerwelt und vom Kunsthandel." Der Cicerone 4 (1912), p. 246, notes that it was sold by Fischer Galleries, New York, to George Blumenthal.

Stella Rubinstein-Bloch. Catalogue of the Collection of George and Florence Blumenthal. Vol. 1, Paintings—Early Schools. Paris, 1926, pl. 47, as Flemish School of Brussels, about 1520.

Dorothy Miller. Letter to Margaretta Salinger. November 8, 1941, suggests the artist was from the school of Antwerp rather than Brussels, and dates these scenes 1520 at the earliest, and possibly as late as 1530.

Harry B. Wehle and Margaretta Salinger. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Early Flemish, Dutch and German Paintings. New York, 1947, pp. 145–46, ill., as by a Follower of Bernaert van Orley, perhaps a miniaturist; date it about 1520.

Erik Larsen. Les primitifs flamands au Musée Metropolitain de New York. Utrecht, 1960, pp. 95–96.

Colin Eisler. "Erik Larsen, Les primitifs flamands au Musée Metropolitain de New York, 1960." Art Bulletin 46 (March 1964), p. 104, notes that Otto Pächt suggested to him several years ago that this "very fine small panel" might well be a work by Dieric Vellert; believes it was part of a larger devotional ensemble.

David Farmer. Rediscovering Cornelis van Coninxloo. 1967 [manuscript in EPD archives, submitted for publication in MMA Journal] pp. 6–7, ascribes to the same hand a Noli Me Tangere (private collection, Switzerland), calling it "a fragment of a companion piece" to our scenes, "probably the upper right corner of another group of four scenes"; ascribes these fragments to Cornelis van Coninxloo the Elder and attributes other works to the artist.

John David Farmer. "Bernard van Orley of Brussels." PhD diss., Princeton University, 1981, pp. 226–32, connects it with the Noli Me Tangere formerly in the collection of Heinz Kisters, Kreuzlingen, and attributes these panels and a group of other works to Cornelis van Coninxloo.

Gemälde und Zeichnungen, 1490–1918. Exh. cat., Galerie Arnoldi-Livie. Munich, 1987, pp. 6–7, ill., mentions our scenes as from the same hand as catalogue no. 3, "Four Scenes from the Passion" attributed to the workshop of van Orley, about 1520 [the subjects are identical to ours, except that the Resurrection is substituted for the Bearing of the Cross].

Maryan W. Ainsworth. "A Meeting of Sacred and Secular Worlds." 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. 322, 344–46, no. 90, ill. (color), catalogues the panel as by a follower of Bernaert van Orley and, following Farmer [Refs. 1967 and 1981] suggests that it was part of an ensemble including a Noli Me Tangere with the same decorative framing (private collection, Switzerland); attributes four scenes that were in the De Boer collection, Amsterdam, in 1971 [and with Galerie Arnoldi-Livie in 1987, see Refs.] to the same workshop, but not to the same artist; notes the influence of Dürer and places the scenes in the early 1520s after Dürer's 1520–21 trip to the Netherlands; sees stylistic similarities, as Farmer has noted [see Refs. 1976 and 1981], to Cornelis van Coninxloo, in particular his "Parents of the Virgin" (Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels).

Violette Doclo. Letter. March 21, 2001, identifies as part of the same altarpiece a panel with an identical border representing Saints Dominic and Peter of Verona in a landscape (art market, Claude Vittet, Paris, 2001), as well as two panels in a private collection, Switzerland; ascribes these panels to the "Master of the Blumenthal Passion," active in Brussels in the first half of the 16th century.



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