Petrus Christus (Netherlandish, active by 1444, died 1475/76)
Oil on wood; Overall 39 3/8 x 34 3/4 in. (100.1 x 85.8 cm); painted surface 38 5/8 x 33 1/2 in. (98 x 85.2 cm)
Robert Lehman Collection, 1975 (1975.1.110)
Justly celebrated as one of the most famous masterpieces of Northern Renaissance art, this work shows a goldsmith in a tiny shop outfitted with the finely wrought civic, secular, and ecclesiastic wares of his trade, displayed on the shelves at the right. The painting is a virtual advertisement for the goldsmith's guild of Bruges in whose guildhall the painting may have hung. The main figure may be Eligius, patron saint of goldsmiths, as traditionally believed, or perhaps more likely a portrait of an actual goldsmith in fifteenth-century Bruges.
Standing in the goldsmith's shop is an aristocratic young couple in sumptuous garb buying a wedding ring that is being weighed on a small handheld scale. An elaborately displayed sash or girdle used in betrothal ceremonies, a further reference to matrimony, extends over the open ledge of the shop into the space of the viewer. The convex mirror at the right, which reflects the market square beyond the counter, is an even bolder illusionistic device linking the pictorial space to that of the viewer. Seen in the mirror are two dandified male figures, one of whom holds a falcon. Their idleness contrasts markedly to the industriousness of the goldsmith in his tidy, well-stocked shop and is perhaps an allusion to sloth, one of the seven deadly sins.