One of numerous copies of a lost original by Bouts, this diptych was produced perhaps fifty years after the master's death. The best version of the composition, now in the Art Institute, Chicago, can be dated on the basis of scientific evidence between 1480 and 1495, or shortly after Bouts's death. Well into the sixteenth century the workshop was active under the direction of Dieric's sons, and our panels may well have been painted by an assistant there.
This artwork is meant to be viewed from right to left. Scroll left to view more.
Fig. 1. Infrared Reflectogram
Fig. 2. X-radiograph
Fig. 3. Photomicrograph of Mourning Virgin, scratching technique in background, 4.75x
Fig. 4. Infrared Reflectogram
Fig. 5. Photomicrograph of Man of Sorrows, scratching technique in background, 4.75x
Fig. 6. X-radiograph
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Title:The Mourning Virgin; Christ Crowned with Thorns
Artist:Posthumous Workshop Copy after Dieric Bouts (Netherlandish, Leuven, ca. 1525)
Medium:Oil on oak
Dimensions:Each 16 x 12 1/2 in. (40.6 x 31.8 cm)
Credit Line:Purchase, 1871
The Subject: On the right panel of this diptych, Christ wears a scarlet mantle and a crown of thorns, which, according to the biblical account of the Passion (Matthew 27: 27–31), was his appearance as he was mocked and beaten just prior to his Crucifixion. At the left, the Virgin Mary, witness to Christ’s torment, prays to her son. The cult of Mary grew in popularity during the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, resulting in many images which focused devotion on contemplating her grief. Depictions of the Mourning Virgin merge Mary’s roles as an example of compassion for Christ’s suffering and an intercessor for humankind (Schuler 1992). The devotee is intended to empathize with the suffering of both holy figures.
The Painting: The presentation of these devotional figures before a gold background suggests that the composition may have derived ultimately from an Italo-Byzantine iconic type (Sprinson de Jésus, 1998; see Maryan W. Ainsworth, "'À la façon grèce': The Encounter of Northern Renaissance Artists with Byzantine Icons," in Byzantium: Faith and Power (1261-1557), exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2004, pp. 545–93; see especially no. 337). The earliest Netherlandish example of this type is Robert Campin’s Praying Virgin and Blessing Christ of about 1425–30 (Philadelphia Museum of Art), which shows the two figures in a continuous space on one panel. The figures in The Met's diptych are meant to appear as if they inhabit an uninterrupted space that shares a light source and a framed background wall, both features that enhance their three-dimensional and lifelike appearance.
The Attribution: This diptych is one of many surviving copies of a prototype, presumed lost, which likely originated in the workshop of Dieric Bouts (active by 1457–died 1475). Based on dendrochronology results, only the pair in the National Gallery, London (NG 711, NG 712) could have been painted during Dieric’s lifetime (Wolff 2008) (for the artists’ biographies see 30.95.280; see also 32.100.55 and 60.55.2). Infrared reflectography reveals that the design was transferred from a workshop drawing via pouncing, which was a common means used to efficiently reproduce designs to be painted by workshop assistants (Ainsworth 1989; see figs. 1, 4 above). The unknown artist made minor adjustments to the transferred design in the paint layers—such as the placement of one of the tears of the Christ Crowned with Thorns—exerting his own artistic judgment in small ways (see Technical Notes). Dendrochronological data confirms that the paintings were made many years after Bouts’s death in 1475, indicating the lasting popularity of the composition for devotional purposes. Due to the high demand for these devotional images, members of the workshop under the helm of Dieric’s sons, Dieric the Younger (1448–1491) and Aelbert (ca. 1451/54–1549), routinely repeated the two subjects and sometimes only paired the panels when they were ready to be sold (John Oliver Hand, Catherine A. Metzger, and Ron Spronk, eds., Prayers and Portraits: Unfolding the Netherlandish Diptych, New Haven, 2006, pp. 50–51). Nevertheless, a close examination of the technique used in The Met's paintings to render the two figures and the gilded background provides evidence that the paintings were originally conceived as a pair and were painted by the same artist (see Technical Notes; compare to 32.100.55).
Maryan W. Ainsworth 2012; updated by Anna-Claire Stinebring 2015
The Mourning Virgin
Support: The support is composed of two planks of oak, with the grain oriented vertically. Dendrochronological analysis indicated an earliest possible creation date of 1511, with a more plausible date of 1517 upwards. The planks originated in the Baltic/Polish region. The panel has been thinned to 3/16 inch (0.2cm), adhered to a secondary wood support 5/16 inch (0.3cm) in thickness, and cradled.
Preparation: The panel was prepared with an off-white ground, which was likely white originally but is now discolored, followed by a thin white layer of priming. The gold background was further prepared with a yellowish-tan layer, which may contain a mordant. There are a small amount of black particles in this yellowish-tan layer that are likely residue from the dry underdrawing medium, discussed below. The appearance of the gold is characteristic of mordant gilding.
Unpainted margins and a partial barbe along all four edges indicate that the panel was in an engaged frame when the ground was applied and that the original dimensions are preserved.
Examination with infrared reflectography (see fig. 1 above) revealed extensive pouncing throughout the composition. The entire design was transferred to the panel from a drawing prior to painting, including all major contour lines and even small folds in the drapery. Minor adjustments were made to the pounced contours during the painting, most notably small shifts in the Virgin’s facial features. The Virgin’s proper left cheek was made more rounded, the tip of the nose was painted slightly larger and brought lower and to the right, and the lips were extended further to the right and made plumper. These adjustments widened the Virgin’s face and made her features fuller. In addition the hands were slightly repositioned, with the fingers moved apart and the little finger given a more pronounced bend.
Paint Layers: Visual examination of paint handling revealed the artist’s divergence from the masterful technique of Dieric Bouts. A lack of confidence is evident in the painting of the eyes and the nose, where multiple lines show the artist repeatedly searching for the contours. Details in the Mourning Virgin were added with thick, often inarticulate, strokes. There are few wet-in-wet brushstrokes, which indicate that the artist was not compelled by speed.
In general, the paint was applied thickly and using fairly opaque, lead-white containing paint mixtures, particularly in the fleshtones, which represents a departure from conventional early Netherlandish painting technique. As opposed to the more measured approach characteristic of fifteenth-century Netherlandish painters, such as Dieric Bouts, who relied on the white chalk ground to impart luminosity to fleshtones and only used lead white sparingly for the highlights, this artist has used mixtures containing lead-white throughout the fleshtones. The contrast in technique is best illustrated when the distribution of lead-white, a radio-opaque pigment, in the x-radiograph is compared to that in the x-radiograph of the The Met's Virgin and Child by Dieric Bouts (30.95.280). In the x-radiograph of the Mourning Virgin (fig. 2), brushstrokes containing lead white are evident throughout the face, while they are restricted to highlights on the nose and forehead in the x-radiograph of the painting by Dieric Bouts.
The mixture of paint in the fleshtones is composed of a very small amount of blue pigment particles, in addition to white, brown and red particles. This scattering of blue does not truly impart color, but only a hint of coolness that accentuates the marble-like quality of the grieving Virgin. The slight translucency of the Virgin’s white veil has been suggested by a strategic buildup of paint. The forehead was underpainted with fleshtones and the skullcap with solid white, on top of which the veil was painted with a medium-rich, translucent white layer. A few minor changes were made during the painting including an adjustment to the length of the veil and to its right edge, where it was brought out over the blue cloak, and a shift in the positions of both irises.
The niche-like space behind the Virgin was painted very simply using warm brown glazes atop the gold ground. The stippling on the wall was created with the same warm brown paint, in a manner reminiscent of other works attributed to Dieric Bouts and his followers. The highlight on the leftmost element of the illusionary molding was created by scratching away the brown glaze while it was still wet, revealing a line of gold (fig. 3). Some of the scratched lines were corrected, suggesting either a hurried execution or a lack of confidence, consistent with the paint handling in the figure. This scratching technique appears to be unique which compared to similar works attributed to the greater Bouts group.
Condition: The painting is in very good condition. There is a small amount of abrasion to the uppermost paint layers, for example to the thin brown strokes in the tears. There are several losses to the brown glaze of the background, particularly to the right of the Virgin.
Christ Crowned with Thorns
Support: The support consists of two planks of oak, with the grain oriented vertically. Dendrochronological analysis indicated an earliest possible creation date of 1502, with a more plausible date of 1508 upward. The planks originated in the Baltic/Polish region. The panel has been thinned to 3/16 inch (0.2cm), adhered to a secondary wood support 5/16 inch (0.3cm) in thickness, and cradled.
Preparation: The panel was prepared with an off-white ground followed by a thin white layer of priming. The gold background, also apparently mordant gilded, was further primed with a yellowish-tan layer, which contains scattered black particles.
Unpainted margins and a partial barbe along all four edges indicate that the panel was in an engaged frame when the ground was applied and that the original dimensions are preserved.
Examination with infrared reflectography (fig. 4) revealed that a very complete composition was also transferred to the panel from a drawing via pouncing. As in the Virgin, minor adjustments were made to contours during painting, for example the mouth was painted slightly wider than the pounced underdrawing. A large tear beneath the proper right eye that was outlined with pouncing was reduced in size in the painting and repositioned. The inclusion of this tear in the pouncing process indicates the importance of this element, yet the artist adjusted its appearance to suit his composition.
Paint Layers: In general the painting approach in the Christ Crowned with Thorns is very similar to that observed in the Mourning Virgin, including the handling and buildup of the paint. The painting of the facial features, particularly the nose and eyes, also betrays a lack of certainty: repeated contour lines beneath the nose and adjustments to the eyes show the artist searching for contours despite the pounced guide. The thorns embedded beneath the skin of Christ’s forehead do not have the same sense of volume as in other examples, for example the Man of Sorrows by a follower of Albrecht Bouts (The Met 32.100.55): they are only indicated by simple blue triangles. The space behind Christ was also created with warm brown glazes, brown stippling, and a scratching away of wet paint for the highlights (fig. 5).
Condition: The Christ Crowned with Thorns is slightly more abraded than the Sorrowing Virgin particularly in the more vulnerable passages, such as the brown hairs that lie over the gold and fine hairs and drops of blood. There are several losses to the brown glaze over the gold, particularly to the right of Christ. The red robe is in remarkably good condition, with the red lake vibrant and intact.
The Two Panels as a Diptych: Despite the slightly later felling date of the oak planks used for the Mourning Virgin, both supports have been prepared in the same manner and have similar pounced underdrawings. The slight discrepancy in the age of the two supports may not be remarkable, considering that a busy workshop may have had a large number of panels in store.
The painting approach is also very alike, particularly the way the artist has built up form in the fleshtones using thick, opaque paint mixtures. Furthermore, the tentative handling of specific elements is comparable, including the contours of the noses and the shapes of the eyes and the depictions of tears.
Finally, the gold background is painted to give the illusion that both figures stand before a shallow, framed continuous space. The continuity of the space is underscored by a consistent treatment of light and the extension of the scratched lines in the molding from one panel to the other. Moreover, the similarity of the uncertain handling of the scratched lines to the painted contours lines in both compositions offers very strong evidence that the paintings were not only conceived as a diptych, but that all parts of the composition were painted by the same hand.
Sophie Scully 2015
?sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, February 28–March 1, 1870, nos. 113 and 114, as school of Rogier van der Weyden, "Jésus représenté en buste" and "La Vierge, en buste"; [Léon Gauchez and Alexis Febvre, Paris, 1870; sold to Blodgett]; William T. Blodgett, Paris and New York (1870–71; sold half share to Johnston); William T. Blodgett and John Taylor Johnston, New York (1871; sold to The Met)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Taste of the Seventies," April 2–September 10, 1946, no. 2.
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. 58.
Stratford, Ontario. The Gallery. "Sorrowful Images: Early Netherlandish Devotional Diptychs," March 19–May 16, 1999, unnumbered cat.
Ottawa. National Gallery of Canada. "Sorrowful Images: Early Netherlandish Devotional Diptychs," June 11–September 6, 1999, unnumbered cat.
Hamilton, Ontario. McMaster Museum of Art. "Sorrowful Images: Early Netherlandish Devotional Diptychs," September 12–November 7, 1999, unnumbered cat.
Halifax, Nova Scotia. Saint Mary's University Art Gallery. "Sorrowful Images: Early Netherlandish Devotional Diptychs," January 14–February 20, 2000, unnumbered cat.
F[ritz von]. Harck. "Berichte und Mittheilungen aus Sammlungen und Museen, über staatliche Kunstpflege und Restaurationen, neue Funde: Aus amerikanischen Galerien." Repertorium für Kunstwissenschaft 11 (1888), p. 74.
Wolfgang Schöne. Dieric Bouts und seine Schule. Berlin, 1938, pp. 129–30.
Harry B. Wehle and Margaretta Salinger. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Early Flemish, Dutch and German Paintings. New York, 1947, pp. 49–50, ill., catalogue it as "Workshop of Joos van Cleve".
Martin Davies. The National Gallery, London [Les primitifs flamands, I: Corpus de la peinture des anciens pays-bas méridionaux au quinzième siècle, 3]. Vol. 1, Antwerp, 1953, p. 35.
Josephine L. Allen and Elizabeth E. Gardner. A Concise Catalogue of the European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1954, p. 12.
Erik Larsen. Les primitifs flamands au Musée Metropolitain de New York. Utrecht, 1960, p. 64.
Colin Tobias Eisler. "New England Museums." New England Museums [Les primitifs flamands, I: Corpus de la peinture des anciens pays-bas méridionaux au quinzième siècle, vol. 4]. Brussels, 1961, pp. 59–60.
Sixten Ringbom. Icon to Narrative: The Rise of the Dramatic Close-up in Fifteenth-century Devotional Painting. rev. ed. Doornspijk, The Netherlands, 1984, pp. 36, 37, 142–43 [first published in Acta Academiae Aboensis, ser. A, Humaniora, 1965, vol. 31, no. 2, same page nos.].
Maryan W. Ainsworth. "Northern Renaissance Drawings and Underdrawings: A Proposed Method of Study." Master Drawings 27 (Spring 1989), pp. 11, 36 n. 22, observes that it is not surprising that the Mourning Virgin has a pounced underdrawing, since many copies of this popular image were produced.
Martha Wolff. "An Image of Compassion: Dieric Bouts's Sorrowing Madonna." Museum Studies 15, no. 2 (1989), pp. 122, 124, fig. 14, compares it with the Chicago version, ascribed to Bouts.
Peter Klein. Letter. March 20, 1989, reports on the results of his dendrochronological studies of these two paintings, and suggests a probable date of creation of 1525 upward for the Mourning Virgin and 1516 upward for the Man of Sorrows.
Peter Klein. "The Differentiation of Originals and Copies of Netherlandish Panel Paintings by Dendrochronology." Le dessin sous-jacent dans la peinture. Ed. Hélène Verougstraete-Marcq and Roger van Schoute. Colloque 8, Louvain-la-Neuve, 1991, p. 38, using dendrochronological analysis gives a presumed date [of execution] of 1516 for the "Man of Sorrows" and 1515 for the "Mourning Virgin".
Introduction by Walter A. Liedtke inFlemish Paintings in America: A Survey of Early Netherlandish and Flemish Paintings in the Public Collections of North America. Antwerp, 1992, p. 20.
Carol M. Schuler. "The Seven Sorrows of the Virgin: Popular Culture and Cultic Imagery in Pre-Reformation Europe." Simiolus 21 (1992), pp. 14–15.
Peter Klein. "Dendrochronological Findings of the Van Eyck–Christus–Bouts Group." Petrus Christus in Renaissance Bruges: An Interdisciplinary Approach. Ed. Maryan W. Ainsworth. New York, 1995, pp. 157, 164–65, gives estimated felling date of 1506 for the panel with the Man of Sorrows and 1515 for the Mourning Virgin.
Katharine Baetjer. European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art by Artists Born Before 1865: A Summary Catalogue. New York, 1995, p. 251, ill.
Mary Sprinson de Jesús inFrom 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. 37, 63, 65, 84–85, 240, 242–43, 374, no. 58, ill. (color), dates the panels about 1525
Catherine Johnston inSorrowful Images: Early Netherlandish Devotional Diptychs. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Canada. Ottawa, 1999, unpaginated, fig. 4 (color), notes that in both the Chicago and Ottawa diptychs the fingers of the Virgin's hands have been lengthened, and that all subsequent workshop replicas "have been painted with long fingers in imitation of these two"; notes that in our panels, however, the fingers of the Virgin are shorter, "in the manner often encountered with Dieric the Elder"; ascribes both the London and Ottawa diptychs to the Workshop of Dieric Bouts, dating the latter 1485–95, and calls our diptych a Copy after Dieric Bouts, c. 1525.
Katharine Baetjer. "Buying Pictures for New York: The Founding Purchase of 1871." Metropolitan Museum Journal 39 (2004), pp. 180–81, 221, 245, appendix 1A nos. 157–58, ill. p. 221 and fig. 37, remarks that these panels were exhibited in 1872 as from the school of Rogier van der Weyden, and, along with an Adoration of the Magi (71.100), were the only early pictures in the 1871 purchase; notes that in the 1872 catalogue Gauchez attributed them to two different painters of the school of Rogier van der Weyden, and based on this "rather perverse cataloguing," tentatively identifies them with two pictures sold at Hôtel Drouot, February 28–March 1, 1870, as lots 113 and 114.
Martha Wolff inNorthern European and Spanish Paintings before 1600 in the Art Institute of Chicago. Ed. Martha Wolff. New Haven, 2008, p. 149.
Valentine Henderiks. Albrecht Bouts (1451/55–1549). Brussels, 2011, pp. 220–21, p. 329 n. 107, p. 376, no. 62, ill. (color), and figs. 194–95 (color), 196 (infrared reflectograph detail), as by the Workshop of Aelbert Bouts.
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