Two iconographic themes are combined in this splendid painting: the joys of motherhood and the sorrowful premonition of Christ's death. The sleeping infant is traditionally understood as a prefiguration of the dead Christ embraced by the Virgin, known as the Pietà. Contemplating her devotional reading, Mary points to her prayer book, in which two pages are legible. Taken from the Magnificat (Luke 1:54–55), celebrating the Annunciation, and the De Profundis (Psalm 130:1–2), used in the Mass for the dead, the verses foreshadow the Virgin’s rejoicing in the fulfillment of Christ’s destiny and her suffering at her son’s death.
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Fig. 1. Photomicrograph of Child, 4.75x magnification
Fig. 2. Infrared reflectogram of 1982.60.47
Fig. 3. X-radiograph of 1982.60.47
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Title:Virgin and Child
Artist:Joos van Cleve (Netherlandish, Cleve ca. 1485–1540/41 Antwerp) and a collaborator
Medium:Oil on wood
Dimensions:Overall 28 3/8 x 21 1/4 in. (72.1 x 54 cm); painted surface 27 3/4 x 20 3/4 in. (70.5 x 52.7 cm)
Credit Line:The Jack and Belle Linsky Collection, 1982
The Artist: For a biography of Joos van Cleve, see the Catalogue Entry for The Holy Family (32.100.57).
The Subject of the Painting: This is no ordinary depiction of the Virgin and Child, but instead a statement of Catholic Church doctrine, espousing the Incarnation of Christ and the accompanying joys and sorrows of the Virgin. However, it is expressed in visual terms as a naturally posed mother and her child, sitting comfortably before a parapet displayed with a still-life of wine and fruits—all before an expansive landscape.
In reference to Christ’s Incarnation, the Child holds an apple as the new Adam and redeemer of original sin, and he wears a necklace of coral, an apotropaic device to ward off evil. The joys and sorrows of the Virgin are recounted in the open devotional book on her lap where the texts on two folios are legible. One shows the last two lines of the Magnificat, from the Gospel of Saint Luke (1:54–55), the Marian hymn relating the joy of the Virgin at her meeting with her cousin Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist. The Virgin points specifically to the second text that shows the opening lines of the De Profundis, used in the Mass for the dead: "Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O Lord" (Psalm 130:1–2). These passages foreshadow the Virgin’s rejoicing in the fulfillment of Christ’s destiny and her suffering at her son’s death. The latter is echoed by the sleeping Christ, lovingly embraced by his pensive mother, alluding to his death on the cross and the Pietà. The two texts are divided by an illumination that shows Saints Paul and Peter, the founders of the Church.
The themes of the Incarnation, the Passion of Christ, and the Virgin’s supporting role are further emphasized by the naturally arranged still life on the balustrade. The beaker of wine and the bunch of grapes in the silver and gold-embellished compote clearly represent the Eucharist. Specifically, they recall the words that Christ spoke to his disciples at the Last Supper concerning his imminent sacrifice for Humankind: “This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you” (Luke 22:20). The pear, because of its sweetness, symbolizes the tender relationship between the Virgin and Child. The pomegranates recall Ovid’s Metamorphoses and the fate of Proserpina, who ate the seeds before leaving Hades and thus had to return there every year on a cyclical basis, prompting the changing seasons and, therefore, the notion of resurrection and immortality. The ruby-red color of the pomegranate seeds could also refer to the blood of Christ and his sacrifice for Humankind. The halved walnut prompts thoughts of the Passion, due to its bitter flavor and its shell that symbolizes the wood of Christ’s cross. Its three parts of the outer marrow, inner kernel, and shell also denote the Holy Trinity. Finally, the citrus fruit, cut in half, again alludes to the bitterness of Christ’s suffering.
A secondary theme of this extraordinarily well-preserved painting only slowly comes into focus with close looking. In the vast landscape one finds episodes that comprise the narrative of the Rest on the Flight into Egypt. At the left edge is the Miracle of the Wheatfield (Matthew 13:25) and the Massacre of the Innocents (Matthew 2:16–18), while at the far right is a tiny scene of Joseph, leading the Virgin and Child, sitting on a donkey, along their journey.
The Attribution and Date: Although early on attributed to Albrecht Dürer and to Jan Gossart (see Refs.), Gustav Glück (1905) and Eduard Firmenich-Richartz (1909) were the first to attribute this painting to the artist called the Master of the Death of the Virgin. Soon thereafter he was recognized as Joos van Cleve, the great Antwerp painter of the early sixteenth century.
The picture dates from Joos’s mature phase, around 1525 (Bauman 1986, Ainsworth 1998, and Hand 2004). Comparison with Joos’s Holy Family from about 1512–13 (32.100.57) reveals the stylistic changes in the artist’s work that occurred between the early years of his career as a free master in the Antwerp painters’ guild and his more mature work of the 1520s. The depiction of the Virgin in each painting is similar, as is the balustrade with its still life. However, the youthful work shows the inspiration of Jan van Eyck’s paintings, while this panel reveals Joos’s full-fledged abilities, which are more inspired by Italian art (Falkenburg 1994, Ainsworth 1998). The latter is recognized most fully in the impressive scale of the Leonardo-style figure of the Virgin close to the foreground plane, and the compositional device of the parapet.
The figures are shown before a vast landscape with dramatic rock formations and exquisite villages that rely heavily on the compositions of Joachim Patinir, so popular in the mid-1520s. The keen interest for such landscape settings is underscored by the fact that technical examination shows that there was initially an architectural background planned for the Virgin and Child, subsequently changed to perhaps better suit the taste of the client (see Technical Notes). This particular landscape also includes a port at the upper right that may recall that of Genoa, where many of Joos’s paintings were sent to collectors during this period of his career.
There is a distinct separation between the background and the figures of the Virgin and Child in the immediate foreground. Examination with a stereomicroscope revealed that the background was painted first, and a reserve was left for the figures (see fig. 1 above and Technical Notes). The contours of the figures rarely overlap the landscape, suggesting that two different hands were involved in these stages of work. The background was painted by a collaborator who specialized in landscapes in the style of Patinir. The Crucifixion with Saints and a Donor (41.190.20a–c) is another example of Joos working with a collaborator who painted the landscape. Indeed, the landscape features and details of the two works, close in date, are so similar in style and technique that they may well have been painted by the same specialist (Bauman 1986; Ainsworth 1998, p. 360; Leeflang 2015, pp. 62–63). The background in the Virgin and Child shows no apparent underdrawing, and is painted more loosely than the figures, which are underdrawn in Joos’s characteristic style (fig. 2). As noted by Sophie Scully (see Technical Notes), there is also technical evidence showing a reliance on patterns for the still-life elements, especially the wine carafe, suggesting the possible participation of a still-life painter for this portion of the painting as well. Such workshop collaboration between Joos and specialists in landscape and still-life painting is characteristic of the division of labor that became more common in the sixteenth century.
There is a close variant of The Met’s painting in a private collection in which the figures and the landscape are exactly copied by Joos and his landscape specialist. Modifications are made to the open devotional book and the still life, and a cloth of honor has been added behind the Virgin (Leeflang 2015, pp. 64–67). Three smaller and further simplified variants, probably produced by Joos’s workshop, indicate the popularity of this composition (Leeflang 2015, pp. 67, 88 n. 87). Concerning one of these copies in Madrid, Elisa Bermejo Martinez (1991) identified the monogram of a lowercase "d" and uppercase "B" on the plate in the still life shown in the version in the Spanish collection as the initials of Joos van Cleve’s pseudonym: van der Beke. She claimed, therefore, that this panel is the artist’s only monogramed work. However, the inferior quality of this version suggests instead that the initials indicate Joos as the master of the workshop in which it was produced (Ainsworth 1998).
Maryan W. Ainsworth 2020
 See Dan Ewing, “Joos van Cleve und Leonardo, Italienische Kunst in niederländischer Übersetzung,” in Peter van den Brink, ed., Leonardo des Nordens, exh. cat., Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum, Aachen, 2011, pp. 113–31. For examples of massive female figures in the foreground with distant landscape backgrounds by Leonardo and his followers, see figs. 87, 95, and 106. These examples ultimately go back to Leonardo’s Virgin and Child with Saint Anne and John the Baptist (National Gallery, London).
Support: The support was constructed from two oak boards with the grain oriented in the vertical direction. The join lies slightly to right of center, measuring 11 5/8 inch (29.5 cm) from the left edge of the painted surface. The original panel was planed and cradled, it now measures about 1/4 inch (0.6 cm) thick. Dendrochronological analysis indicated an earliest possible creation date of 1508 and a more plausible date of 1514 onwards. The oak originated in the Baltic/Polish region.
The original dimensions of the painted composition are preserved. The panel was prepared and the painting commenced without a frame; the frame was installed while the painting was already underway. The original white ground, underdrawing, and initial paint layers extend to the edges of the panel, while the final painted composition ends about 1/4 to 3/8 inch in from the edges; the presence of the frame resulted in a raised edge of paint there. There are traces of a white material and dark red paint or bole on top of this this raised paint, likely from the decoration of the frame.
Preparation: The panel was prepared with a white ground, followed by what appears to be a lead white-containing oil priming layer, the broad strokes of which are evident in the x-radiograph (see fig. 3 above). Examination with infrared reflectography revealed the presence of an extensive underdrawing executed with a dry material (fig. 2). The artist sketched out the contours in a fairly loose manner, often going over contours more than once. He then added neat zones of parallel, slighting curving hatchmarks, especially in the drapery. He rarely drew lines to indicate interior folds of drapery but, instead, used this patchwork of hatching to create the folds. There is no underdrawing for the background. Despite the somewhat loose nature of the underdrawing, the only correction was a repositioning of the Child’s toe. The infrared reflectogram also reveals a change in the background; the artist initially included a column to the left of the Virgin, possibly underdrawn or perhaps just sketched with strokes of lean paint.
Paint Layers: The artist painted this Virgin and Child with softly blended brushstrokes, easing the transitions from flesh to lips and eyes with feathered strokes (fig. 1). A similar approach can be seen in The Met's Holy Family (32.100.57), but the larger scale of this composition allowed the artist to go to greater lengths to softly blend his forms. The x-radiograph lacks the sharp contrasts that result when an artist reserves white for highlights only, and microscopic examination revealed that Joos indeed mixed white throughout these highly blended fleshtones.
The landscape appears to have been painted by a second hand. The landscape was painted first, with a reserve left for the figure group. When Joos painted the figures he did not always paint exactly up to the reserve and so bridged slight gaps between figures and landscape by pulling paint around the figures (see Catalogue Entry). The balustrade was also painted before the figures. The artist added the inch or so of balustrade peeking between the Virgin’s fur sleeve and blue robe after painting the figures; the paint is slightly brighter and thicker there.
As mentioned above, the artist who painted the landscape initially planned a larger architectural setting behind the Virgin and Child. He began to lay in the paint for this; when examined with the stereomicroscope, brown paint is visible beneath the sky above the Virgin’s head. The artist also blocked in the lead white-containing region to the left of that initial architecture, likely a view out onto the sky, as visible in the x-radiograph.
As he began painting, the artist made several minor corrections to the underdrawn contours in the painting, see for example, the side of the Virgin’s head and her breast. He made a few more significant alterations to the still life: he did not paint the fruit sketched in to the right of the bowl in the underdrawing but did add in a lemon half and the knife leaning on it, which were not planned in the underdrawing.
The bowl of fruit and the glass wine carafe are strikingly similar in appearance and technique to those in The Met's Holy Family (32.100.57). Interestingly, the reflections on the glass carafe in this painting do not fit with the lighting conditions in the outdoor setting of the Virgin and Child, nor do they accurately reflect the setting of the Holy Family. This same carafe with these exact reflections is included in many of these Virgin and Child compositions attributed to Joos van Cleve and his workshop, regardless of the location of the windows or light source, but only seem to reflect the lighting accurately in the Vienna Holy Family (Kunsthistorisches Museum; GG836) where the window is on the right. This suggests that the still life was replicated in several paintings, perhaps by a specialist, without regard to the light sources in each setting.
The painting remains in very good condition.
Sophie Scully 2020
 Wood identification and dendrochronological analysis completed by Dr. Peter Klein, Universität Hamburg, report dated May 5, 1997. The report can be found in the files of the Department of Paintings Conservation. “The youngest heartwood ring was formed out in the year 1497. Regarding the sapwood statistic of Eastern Europe an earliest felling date can be derived for the year 1506, more plausible is a felling date between 1510..1512….1516 + x. With a minimum of 2 years for seasoning an earliest creation of the painting is possible from 1508 upwards. Under the assumption of a median of 15 sapwood rings and a minimum of 2 years for seasoning a creation is plausible from 1514 onwards.”  Infrared reflectography completed with a Merlin Indigo InGaAs near-infrared camera with a StingRay macro lens customized for the wavelengths covered by the camera, 0.9 to 1.7 microns. Captured by Evan Read, May 2014.
Inscription: Inscribed (on prayer book pages): . . . / recordatus misericordiae suae / Sicut loctus·est ad / patres nostras Abra / ham et=semini eius i[n] / saecula Gloria patri et / filio et spir[ito] / sancto S[icut erat in] / principi[o et nunc et semper] / et in saecu[la saeculorum] / De profundis clamavi / [ad te] domine : domine ex / [audi v]ocem : meam / [Fiant aures tua]e intenden / [tes in vocem depreca]tiones / [meae.] / . . . misericoria et co / [piosa] ( . . . in remembrance of his mercy; As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever. Glory to the father and to the son and to the holy spirit, [as it was in the] beginning, [is now, and shall be for ever.] Out of the depths have I cried [unto thee,] O Lord. Lord, [hear] my voice: [let thine ears] be attentive [to the voice of my] supplications [Luke 1:54-55, the Gloria patri, and Psalms 130:1-2 and possibly 7].)
Louis Apollinaire Sicard, Lyons (in about 1848; sold to Dupré); [?Georges] Dupré, Lyons (before d. 1853; sold to Gilibert); Dr. Stanislas Gilibert, Lyons (by 1853–d. 1870; his estate sale, Odier, Lyons, March 11ff., 1872, no. 90, as "École de Dürer," for Fr 2,500 to Calamard); Monsieur Calamard, Lyons (from 1872; sold to Spiridon); [Louis Spiridon, Rome and Paris, until 1877/78; sold for Fr 25,000 to Odiot]; Ernest Odiot, Paris (1877/78–1889; his sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, April 26–27, 1889, no. 6, as by Mabuse [Gossart] for Fr 37,000 to Miranda); Mme Angèle de Miranda, Paris (1889–at least 1925); Edward J. Berwind, The Elms, Newport, R.I. (until d. 1936); his sister, Julia A. Berwind, The Elms (1936–d. 1961; her estate sale, Parke-Bernet, New York, June 27–28, 1962, no. 222, for $40,000 to Frederick P. Victoria for Linsky); Mr. and Mrs. Jack Linsky, New York (1962–his d.1980); The Jack and Belle Linsky Foundation, New York (1980–82)
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. 96.
THIS WORK MAY NOT BE LENT, BY TERMS OF ITS ACQUISITION BY THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART.
Collection Dr. Stanislas Gilibert. Ch. Gachod, Lyons. March 11, 1872, p. 41, no. 90, attribute it to the School of Dürer.
Raoul de Cazenove. Les tableaux d'Albert Dürer au Musée de Lyon. Lyons, 1883, pp. 28–30, rejects the attribution to the School of Albrecht Dürer and proposes Jan Gossart as the artist; provides extensive provenance.
Alfred Darcel. "La collection de M. Ernest Odiot." Gazette des beaux-arts, 3rd ser., 1 (1889), pp. 253, 257–58, ill. (reproductive engraving by Ch. Kreutzberger), doubts the attribution to Jan Gossart, observing that it is not by Bernaert Van Orley either, suggests one look among their contemporaries.
Objets d'art et de haute curiosité tableaux anciens composant la précieuse collection de M. Ernest Odiot. Hôtel Drouot, Paris. April 26–27, 1889, p. 24, no. 6, ill., as by Mabuse (Gossart).
Gustav Glück. "Kinderbildnisse aus der Sammlung Margaretens von Österreich." Jahrbuch der kunsthistorischen Sammlungen in Wien 25 (1905), pp. 227–28 n. 3, mentions it as presumably by the Master of the Death of the Virgin.
[E.] Firmenich–Richartz inAllgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler. Ed. Ulrich Thieme and Felix Becker. Vol. 3, Leipzig, 1909, p. 217, dates the painting to Joos's middle period; lists it in the collection of Countess Miranda–Nielssen [Paris].
Alfred von Wurzbach. Niederländisches Künstler-Lexikon. Vol. 2, Vienna, 1910, p. 609, lists it under Jan van Scorel [then regarded by some as a candidate for identification with the Master of the Death of the Virgin, now recognized by almost all to be Joos van Cleve] as a forgery along with most other similar half–length compositions in the group.
Martin Conway. The Van Eycks and Their Followers. London, 1921, pp. 402, 404, as by Joos; dates it slightly later than 1510; notes that the Virgin's facial type resembles that in Rogier van der Weyden's drawing in the Louvre (inv. no. 20.664) and states that "it must in any case be copied from some Rogier, for the type does not recur in the work of Joos".
Friedrich Winkler. Die altniederländische Malerei: Die Malerei in Belgien und Holland von 1400–1600. Berlin, 1924, pp. 249–50, as by Joos, shortly after 1515.
Ludwig von Baldass. Joos van Cleve, der Meister des Todes Mariä. Vienna, 1925, p. 7 n. 72, pp. 24, 26, 31, no. 51, fig. 46b, as by Joos; dates it about 1520 in the text, but about 1525 in the catalogue; observes clear parallels with the Madonna pictures of Jan Gossart.
The Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 13, 14th ed. London, 1929, p. 147.
Max J. Friedländer. Die altniederländische Malerei. Vol. 9, Joos van Cleve, Jan Provost, Joachim Patenier. Berlin, 1931, p. 136, no. 57, as an original by Joos, from about 1525, mentions an old copy on the art market in Paris (55 x 40 cm).
Fritz Neugass. "Abschluss einer Epoche: Versteigerung der Sammlung Berwind." Weltkunst 32 (August 1, 1962), p. 13, ill.
Max J. Friedländer et al. Early Netherlandish Painting. Vol. 9, part 1, Joos van Cleve, Jan Provost, Joachim Patenier. New York, 1972, p. 62, no. 57, pl. 72.
John Oliver Hand. "Joos van Cleve: The Early and Mature Works." PhD diss., Princeton University, 1978, p. 310, no. 83, fig. 95, lists it among works known only through copies; rejects the attribution of the figures or the landscape to Joos's hand; suggests that the picture may echo a lost original.
John Oliver Hand. Letter to Guy Bauman and Maryan Ainswoth. July 26, 1983, attributes it to Joos and his workshop, about 1525; suggests that the underdrawing is by Joos while the paint layer is probably by a different hand; observes that the facial type of the Virgin is atypical for Joos and the still-life elements more heavily painted than his; considers the landscape to be the work of a specialist in Joos's shop.
Lorne Campbell. The Early Flemish Pictures in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen. Cambridge, 1985, p. 32, notes a resemblance, in reverse, to a painting by a follower of Joos in the Royal Collection (Hampton Court), London, and one attributed to Joos in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.
Guy C. Bauman. "The Jack and Belle Linsky Collection in the Metropolitan Museum of Art: Addenda to the Catalogue." Metropolitan Museum Journal 21 (1986), pp. 154–59, no. A.1, ill. (color, overall and details), as by Joos and a collaborator, about 1525; notes that the landscape in the Crucifixion triptych (MMA 41.190.20a–c) is very similarly painted, also without underdrawing, and may be the work of the same specialist; observes that the background scenes suggest that the subject in the foreground is meant to be the Rest on the Flight into Egypt; suggests that the infant Christ asleep against his mother's breast is an allusion to the Lamentation when she will hold her dead son; indicates that the still-life elements in the painting relate symbolically to the theme of mankind's salvation and elaborates on their iconography; identifies the inscription on the recto page of the open book as the opening words of the De Profundis (Psalm 130:1–2), followed by the Gloria Patri, and the text on the verso page as the closing words of the Magnificat (Luke 1:54–55)
Elisa Bermejo Martinez. "Una virgen con el niño, de Joos van Cleve, monogramada y noticias sobre una adoración." Archivo español de arte 64 (July–September 1991), pp. 350–51, fig. 3, compares our picture to a version now in a Spanish private collection, claiming that the latter work is monogrammed by Joos.
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. 343, no. 288, ill.
Jochen Sander. Niederländische Gemälde im Städel, 1400–1550. Mainz, 1993, pp. 220–21, ill., discusses it in connection with a related work by an "Antwerp (?) Master about 1525" in the Städel.
Reindert L. Falkenburg. The Fruit of Devotion: Mysticism and the Imagery of Love in Flemish Paintings of the Virgin and Child, 1450-1550. Philadelphia, 1994, pp. 14–15, 85–86, ill., mentions it as an early example in the Southern Netherlands of the Italian convention of the Virgin sitting in front of a stone ballustrade or table on which fruit is displayed; notes that this motif, which goes back to the mid-15th century, was adopted by Northern artists through the works of Andrea Mantegna and Giovanni Bellini; observes that Northern artists modified the pictorial type by portraying the Virgin with a prayerbook in her hand next to foods and various objects of consumption, thus giving the table the character of a 'prie-dieu' and adding a sensual dimension to the believer's meditation.
Katharine Baetjer. European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art by Artists Born Before 1865: A Summary Catalogue. New York, 1995, p. 269, ill. p. 268.
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. 36, 59, 73–74, 209, 211, 268, 326, 360–64, no. 96, ill. (color, overall and details), ascribes it to Joos van Cleve and a collaborator, about 1525, the period of Joos's maturity; attributes the Patinir-inspired landscape, which became so popular from the mid-1520s, to a specialist, as it shows no underdrawing and is more loosely painted than the figures.
Dagmar Eichberger. Leben mit Kunst, Wirken durch Kunst: Sammelwesen und Hofkunst unter Margarete von Österreich, Regentin der Niederlande. Turnhout, Belgium, 2002, p. 216, ill.
John Oliver Hand. Joos van Cleve: The Complete Paintings. New Haven, 2004, pp. 132, 149, no. 59, fig. 138, dates it about 1525.
Micha Leeflang. "Joos van Cleve's 'Adoration of the Magi' in Detroit: Revealing the Underdrawing." Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts 82, no. 1/2 (2008), p. 72 n. 1.
Micha Leeflang inJoos van Cleve, Leonardo des Nordens. Ed. Peter van den Brink et al. Exh. cat., Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum, Aachen. Stuttgart, 2011, pp. 143–44, fig. 119 (color).
Peter van den Brink inJoos van Cleve, Leonardo des Nordens. Ed. Peter van den Brink et al. Exh. cat., Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum, Aachen. Stuttgart, 2011, p. 174.
Susan Urbach. Early Netherlandish Paintings. London, 2015, vol. 1, p. 93 n. 2, under no. 6.
Micha Leeflang. Joos van Cleve: A Sixteenth-Century Antwerp Artist and His Workshop. Turnhout, Belgium, 2015, pp. 40, 60, 62–64, 67–68, 86 n. 49, p. 87 n. 79, pp. 88–89 n. 120, pp. 151, 156, 173, 184–85, figs. 2.41 (color), 2.42 (infrared reflectogram detail), ill. p. 229 (infrared reflectogram) and dust jacket (color and infrared reflectogram composite).
This work may not be lent, by terms of its acquisition by The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
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