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Art/ Collection/ Art Object

The Descent from the Cross

Master of the Holy Blood (Netherlandish, ca. 1520)
Oil on wood
Central panel, overall 36 x 28 1/2 in. (91.4 x 72.4 cm), painted surface 35 5/8 x 28 1/2 in. (90.5 x 72.4 cm); left panel, overall 36 x 12 3/8 in. (91.4 x 31.4 cm), painted surface 35 1/2 x 12 3/8 in.(90.2 x 31.4 cm); right panel, overall 35 7/8 x 12 5/8 in. (91.1 x 32.1 cm), painted surface 35 3/8 x 12 1/2 in. (89.9 x 31.8 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Clyde Fitch and Ferdinand Gottschalk, 1917
Accession Number:
Not on view
The Master of the Holy Blood, an uninventive and repetitive artist who appears to have been trained in Antwerp and to have settled in Bruges, takes his name from a Lamentation altarpiece in the Heilig Bloedmuseum, Bruges. The center panel of the present work is a late reflection of a lost but often copied Descent from the Cross by Rogier van der Weyden. To this essentially fifteenth-century composition have been added wings with individual saints that show the influence of the early-sixteenth-century Antwerp painter, Quentin Massys. There is in-painting along several vertical splits and joins which had separated, particularly in the center panel.
Deedes collection, Sandling Park, Hythe, Kent; [art dealer, Hythe, Kent]; Ferdinand Gottschalk, New York (given to Fitch); Clyde Fitch, New York (until d. 1909); his mother, Mrs. W. G. Fitch, New York (1909–17)
Bruges. Groeninge Museum. "Primitifs flamands anonymes," June 14–September 21, 1969, no. 30.

Ferdinand Gottschalk. Letter. November 6, 1917, discusses the picture's provenance and a label formerly on the reverse: "Taken down from ye loope, 1596".

B[ryson]. B[urroughs]. "Recent Accessions. Descent from the Cross: A Copy after Rogier van der Weyden." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 14 (March 1919), p. 65, calls it a Copy after Rogier van der Weyden and dates it 1510–25.

Harry B. Wehle and Margaretta Salinger. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Early Flemish, Dutch and German Paintings. New York, 1947, pp. 81–82, ill., calls the saints on these wings and on those of related triptychs "in the sixteenth-century style of Quentin Massys's followers"; ascribes the MMA version to the Master of the Holy Blood, about 1520.

Erwin Panofsky. Early Netherlandish Painting: Its Origins and Character. Cambridge, Mass., 1953, vol. 1, p. 465 n. 3 (to p. 266).

D. Farmer. Primitifs flamands anonymes. Exh. cat., Groeninge Museum. Bruges, 1969, pp. 75–76, 224–25, no. 30, ill., ascribes it to the Master of the Holy Blood, dating the elegant costumes worn by the saints on the wings to the years 1515–20.

Cyriel Stroo and Pascale Syfer-d'Olne. The Flemish Primitives I: Catalogue of Early Netherlandish Painting in the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium. Ed. Elizabeth Moodey and Stanton Thomas. Vol. 1, The Master of Flémalle and Rogier van der Weyden Groups. Brussels, 1996, pp. 202–5, nn. 9 and 16, ill., identify six triptychs—including this one and one in the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels—in which the same Rogerian Descent From the Cross is flanked by wings with Nicodemus and Mary Magdalen; places these variants in the sixteenth century and observes that all of them must rely on a common model, although without further study it is difficult to say "whether some came from the same workshop, or whether one is a copy of another"; attribute the MMA version to the Master of the Holy Blood, but based on stylistic differences finds an attribution of the Brussels picture to the same master untenable.

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, p. 406, ill., date it about 1520.

Dirk De Vos. Rogier van der Weyden: The Complete Works. New York, 1999, pp. 368–69, no. B11, ill. (central panel), observes that there are no fifteenth-century copies of the four-figure variant of this composition, but claims that a few of the three-figure variants were produced before the end of the fifteenth century; believes the latter composition, including what he calls the best version, in the Royal Collection, London, "reflects the van der Weyden idiom much more clearly" than the variants related to the MMA picture; views the three-figure version as "the primary type, developed in the circle of Van der Weyden, while the four-figure type is a 16th-century derivation".

Old Master Paintings. Sotheby's, New York. June 3, 2010, p. 18, under no. 9.

On the left wing of this triptych is Nicodemus and on the right, Saint Mary Magdalen. The central panel is one of a large number of late fifteenth-century and sixteenth-century copies after what is generally believed to be a lost, presumably half-length, Descent from the Cross by Rogier van der Weyden. The more than 150 copies can be divided into two groups, possibly reflecting two separate prototypes: those which—like this one—include the Virgin, Christ, Joseph of Arimathea, and John the Evangelist, and a second group, which omits the figure of Saint John.
Ringbom (1965/86) points out that the physical type of the Virgin in the four-figure composition is close to her characterization in Rogier's polyptych of the Last Judgment (Hôtel Dieu, Beaune), while her gesture and appearance in the three-figure composition more closely reflect her representation in the Crucifixion triptych (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna); both works are generally placed in the 1440s and a Rogierian prototype, therefore, might date from these years. For Ringbom and other authors, these copies are of special interest, not only in their reference back to a presumed lost original (or originals) by Rogier, but because they occupy "a crucial place in the history of the half-length narrative" (Ringbom, p. 119).
[Davies (1972) suggests that Rogier's prototype might be identfiable with the four-figure Deposition ascribed to him in the inventory of paintings presented to the Escorial by Philip II in 1574: "Another painting of the Deposition, with our Lady and Saint John and Nicodemus, by Master Rogier, with two inscribed wings, which are from Queen Mary: two feet high and one and a half feet in width, without the wings; rounded at the top." In the absence of the actual picture, the accuracy of the attribution to Rogier cannot be confirmed, although Davies points out that the Deposition and Crucifixion recorded in the same inventory (now respectively in the Prado and Escorial, Madrid) are clearly identifiable and autograph works.]
Because five copies of the four-figure composition survived until recently in Bruges, many authors have suggested that its original was there. The wings with saints or inscriptions that flank some of these compositions are not thought to be part of Rogier's original conception. In addition to our altarpiece, five other Deposition triptychs—apparently all four-figured—have survived that include wings with Nicodemus and Mary Magdalen in the same poses (see Stroo and Syfer d'Olne 1996, p. 202). Based on their costumes, these saints must have been introduced into the composition in the course of the 16th century. The other triptychs are in: the Musées des Beaux-Arts, Brussels; Museu de Arte Sacra, Funchal (Madeira); formerly Residence Saint-Joseph, Bruges; art market, London; and Berlin (sale November 18–19, 1938, nos. 145–46; formerly Doisteau collection, Paris).
Bibliography related to the Descent From the Cross composition:
Salomon Reinach. "A Lost Picture by Rogier van der Weyden," Burlington Magazine 153 (November 1923), pp. 214–21
Édouard Salin. "Copies ou variations anciennes d'une oeuvre perdue de Rogier van der Weyden," Gazette des beaux-arts 14 (1935), pp. 15–26
Sixten Ringbom. Icon to Narrative, 1983 (1st published 1965), pp. 118–25
Max J. Friedländer. Early Netherlandish Painting, vol. 2: Rogier van der Weyden and the Master of Flémalle, 1967, pp. 79–80, nos. 97–98
Brigitte Völker. "Die Entwicklung des Erzählenden Halbfigurenbildes in der Niederländischen Malerei des 15. und 16. Jahrhunderts," Ph.D. dissertation, 1968, pp. 20–24
Martin Davies. Rogier van der Weyden, 1972, pp. 238–39
Lorne Campbell. The Early Flemish Pictures in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen, 1985, pp. 82–83
Cyriel Stroo and Pascale Syfer-d'Olne. The Flemish Primitives, I. The Master of Flémalle and Rogier van der Weyden Groups, 1996, pp. 198–213
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