Fully intact early Netherlandish triptychs are a rarity in American museums, many of which were formed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when noble family collections and church and monastery treasures in Europe began to be dispersed. As this happened, diptychs and triptychs sometimes were broken up for a variety of reasons, including by dealers who hoped to garner a higher price for individual pieces. Recognizing the scarcity of complete ensembles, J. Pierpont Morgan acquired The Last Supper
triptych in 1909, bequeathing it to The Met upon his death.
The outside wings of the closed triptych show Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, when Eve offered the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge to Adam, thus depicting the moment of original sin. This Old Testament story of Genesis 3:1–24 is the introduction to the interior of the altarpiece where we find the New Testament scene of the Last Supper from the Gospel of Saint Luke 22:17–24. This is the episode that puts into play the events of the Passion of Christ, including the Crucifixion where Jesus sacrificed his life for the forgiveness of the sins of humankind, thereby redressing the original sin of Adam and Eve.
In this rendition, the event takes place not in a simple upper room, but in a grand refectory, decorated with garlands, a brocade hanging, and sculptures, of which the Old Testament prophet Moses stands on a plinth holding the tablets of the Ten Commandments directly above the Savior. Christ has blessed the bread and the wine that is being shared by the twelve disciples. The animated gestures of these individuals and the heated discussion among them results from Christ’s warning that one among them will betray him (Luke 22:21). Judas, the sharp-profiled, red-headed man dressed in a yellow cloak, and carrying his bag of silver in his left hand—the reward for betraying Christ—is startled by the announcement and starts to rise from his chair for an unanticipated hasty departure. John, Christ’s favorite, sits to his proper right, raising both hands in astonishment at the news, and sorrowfully lowering his head toward the Lord. Christ discusses the accusation further with Peter at his left. The servant serving wine at the lower left of the scene is in contemporary dress and larger in scale than the disciples. His prominence and portrait-like physiognomy indicate that he is likely the patron who commissioned the triptych. Such participatory portraits within religious scenes were rather common at the time and signaled the desire of the patron to empathize to such an extent with Christ’s life and human suffering that he appears to take part in the actual event, experiencing the Last Supper first-hand. On the lower frame edges of the three panels is the text that refers to the central panel. From Matthew 26:26 it reads: (under the left wing) CENANTIBVSILLIS, ACZEPIT; (under the central panel) IESVS PANEM BENEDIXIT, ACFREJIT, DEDITQV[E]; (under the right wing) DISCIPVLIS, SVIS, DICENS (And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said . . .). However, this text is not original to the paintings but was added with the restoration of the frames in the early twentieth century.
The left and right interior wings of the triptych offer Old Testament antecedents or typological parallels for the New Testament scene of the Last Supper. The left wing represents Genesis 14: 18–24 when Melchizedek, the Priest-King of Salem, greeted Abraham with bread and wine and then blessed him as he returned from defeating King Chedorlaomer. This is understood as a prefiguration of the Eucharist, first celebrated at Christ’s Last Supper with his disciples. The right wing shows the Gathering of the Manna, the account in Exodus 16:11–36 (and in Numbers 11:7–9) in which wafers miraculously fell from heaven to feed the Israelites as they endured their forty-year wandering in the desert following the Exodus, and prior to the conquest of Canaan and their arrival in the Promised Land. This also anticipates the Eucharist and Christ’s participation in it, as reported in the Gospel of St. John 6:33: “For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world.” The joining of these typological parallels in art had earlier precedents. These two Old Testament episodes flank the Jewish Passover Feast in the Speculum Humanae Salvationis
(Southern Netherlands, about 1460), a series of New Testament events related to Old Testament ones (Smeyers 1998, p. 54). The earliest known representation in a painting is Dieric Bouts’s Holy Sacrament Altarpiece
of 1464 commissioned by the Corpus Christi Brotherhood of Saint Peter’s Church in Leuven (see fig. 1 above), which includes the scenes discussed above as well as two additional ones: the Jewish Passover
and Elijah’s Dream
.The Attribution and Date:
In addition to drawing its iconography from multiple sources, the painter of this triptych also derived inspiration from a variety of other popular visual antecedents, in particular from engravings. The Adam and Eve of the exterior wings is loosely based on Albrecht Dürer’s famous 1504 engraving that circulated widely throughout The Netherlands (The Met, 19.73.1
), even before the artist’s sojourn there in 1521. An engraving of the Last Supper
by the monogrammist IAM of Zwolle (fig. 2) appears to have been influential for the centerpiece of The Met triptych (Marlier 1966), including certain details such as the grand refectory with views beyond to the right and left; the foreground basket of bread and the dog gnawing on a bone; the round-backed chair at the right; the triumvirate of John, Christ, and Peter at the center of the table and their interaction with each other; and especially the profile-view of Judas and his exact position at center-right in the composition.
The flamboyant style of the triptych emphasizes storytelling that is conveyed above all by figures in exaggerated poses, decorative garb and fluttering draperies, and a high-key palette based on a variety of reds, yellows, blues, and greens. Such paintings belong to the group designated by Max J. Friedländer as the Antwerp Mannerists. Although Friedländer initially sought to divide into five specific groups those working in this style in Antwerp in the early decades of the sixteenth century, the significant variations within these groups indicate additional hands not necessarily working together in the same atelier. The Master of the Von Groote Adoration, the Antwerp follower of Pseudo-Blesius, to whom The Met triptych was originally attributed by Friedländer and supported by most scholars (see References), for example, hardly represents one master. The main interior portions of The Met triptych show differences from the name painting of the artist, that is, the Triptych of the Adoration of the Magi
(Städelsches Kunstinstitut und Städtische Galerie, Frankfurt; fig. 3). While the name painting shows a vast open space across the three panels and a comfortable integration of the figures within it, including a logical diminution of figure scale to represent recession into space, in The Met paintings the background is minimally described, and the larger figures are all crowded into the foreground in a rather monotonous way across the picture plane. The figures of the Frankfurt triptych are more subtly painted with distinctive variations among them that enhance the lifelike narrative, while the figures of The Met triptych are for the most part exaggerated caricatures more loosely painted with considerable speed evident in their handling and technique (see Technical Notes).
Veronique Sintobin (1998, pp. 262, 264) suggested that The Met triptych itself appears to represent the collaboration of three different artists. One, she considered, was rather skillful at depicting nudes and fashioned a version of Dürer’s Adam and Eve
on the outside wings. The figures on the interior of the triptych with their stiff poses and caricature-like faces would be the work of a second painter. Finally, the representation of the probable donor of the triptych, who serves wine to the disciples, necessitated the greater skills of a portraitist among those in the workshop. Although the figure is awkwardly inserted at the lower left of the centerpiece and out of scale with the other figures, the treatment of his physiognomy is the most sensitive and realistic of those in the triptych. He is clearly individualized, and yet there are no other clues to his specific identity in the painting. Perhaps this man commissioned the triptych for his family chapel or for a prestigious confraternity or brotherhood to which he belonged.
On closer examination it appears that all of the paintings—interior and exterior—were initially planned and underdrawn by the same hand. This artist laid out the composition and then considered the system of light and shade through even parallel hatching in brush and a liquid medium (see Technical Notes). Although a grayish priming obscures the underdrawing especially on the central panel, the underdrawing on the left interior wing and on the exterior wing with Adam, for example, shows the same hand at work (see Technical Notes). In paint, the exaggerated, caricature-like physiognomies of the central panel are at odds with the composed and serene figure of Adam. However, examination of the painting technique of these figures under the microscope shows the same characteristics of the brushwork employed to fashion the eyes and model the face (see Technical Notes). This artist, then, could apparently paint in a range of modes to portray various types, whether the almost androgynous John or the caricature-like, aged Peter, each flanking the figure of Christ (fig. 4).
The portrait head of the donor at the lower left in the foreground of the Last Supper seems to be the only figure that required a more accomplished hand or at least a more subtle approach—one that could be employed to satisfy the donor’s requirements for his likeness. The collaboration of specialists and the separation of tasks within one workshop helped to ensure not only a certain standard of quality control, but also streamlined manufacture at a time when market demand in Antwerp began to influence the working methods of painters. Although a precise dating for the triptych remains elusive, the peak of the production of the Antwerp Mannerists, to which this triptych belongs, is around 1515–20.
Maryan W. Ainsworth 2022
 Barbara Welzel calls this iconographic theme the Communion of Judas (Welzel 1991).
 A key example of this is Dieric Bouts’s Last Supper Altarpiece
in which there are several portraits perhaps of the painter and of those who commissioned the altarpiece. See Catheline Périer-d’Ieteren, Dieric Bouts, The Complete Works
, Brussels, 2006, pp. 35–36, fig. 11. On participatory portraits in paintings, see L. Campbell, Renaissance Portraits, European Portrait Painting in the 14th, 15th, and 16th Centuries
, New Haven, 1990, pp. 3–9; and F. Polleross, “Between Typology and Psychology: The Role of the Identification Portrait in Updating Old Testament Representations,” Artibus et Historiae
12, (1991), pp. 75–117.
 For a helpful critique of Friedländer’s formation of the Antwerp Mannerist groups, see Annick Born, “Antwerp Mannerism: A Fashionable Style?,” in Extravagant, A Forgotten Chapter of Antwerp painting 1500–1530
, Peter van den Brink, ed., exh. cat., Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp and Bonnefantenmuseum, Maastricht, 2005–6, pp. 10–19, esp. pp. 14–17.
 On this master, see Max J. Friedländer, Early Netherlandish Painting, XI: The Antwerp Mannerists, Adriaen Ysenbrant
, comments and notes by Henri Pauwels, assisted by Anne-Marie Hess, translated by Heinz Norden, Leiden, 1974, pp. 24–28, pls. 36–48; and Jochen Sander in Extravagant, A Forgotten Chapter of Antwerp painting 1500–1530
, Peter van den Brink, ed., exh. cat., Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp and Bonnefantenmuseum, Maastricht, 2005–6, pp. 154–61.
 For a discussion of Antwerp Mannerist painters’ workshops, see Micha Leeflang, “Workshop Practices in Early Sixteenth-Century Antwerp Studios,” Jaarboek Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp
(2004–5) pp. 223–73.