This compact, miniature altarpiece was commissioned for devotions to the Virgin of the Rosary. The rosary refers to both the series of prayers recited, and the string of prayer beads used as a memory device. Dominik of Prussia, a fifteenth-century Carthusian monk, recommended that worship of the Virgin of the Rosary be split into fifty events from the lives of Christ and the Virgin, known as mysteries. One mystery was assigned to each Ave Maria prayer in a chaplet (one third of the full rosary). The further diffusion of the cult was largely due to the work of Alanus de Rupe, a Dominican monk who founded the Confraternity of the Psalter of the Glorious Mary in Douai around 1475. His followers continued the advancement of the cult, and the Fifteen Mysteries of the Rosary was first published in Unser Lieben Frawen Psalter
, a devotional handbook dedicated to the Virgin, in 1483 in Ulm. Painted on a single panel that was later cut into sixteen parts (see Technical Notes), the fifteen mysteries presented in The Met's miniature altarpiece are divided into three registers of five images each: the five Joyful Mysteries (the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Nativity, the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, and the Finding of the Child in the Temple); the five Sorrowful Mysteries (the Agony in the Garden, the Scourging of Christ, the Mocking of Christ, Christ Carrying the Cross, and the Crucifixion); and the five Glorious Mysteries (the Resurrection, the Ascension, the Descent of the Holy Spirit, the Dormition of the Virgin, and the Coronation of the Virgin).
The lower portion of the painting shows the Virgin of the Rosary as Queen of Heaven. She stands on a tiled floor below a baldachin, and carries the Christ Child, who holds the end of a chaplet represented as a garland of roses. This garland consists of fifty white roses, separated into groups of ten, or decades, interspersed with five larger red roses. Like the beads of a hand-held rosary, each smaller rose represents an Ave Maria prayer (Hail Mary), and each larger one a Paternoster (Our Father). The Child raises his right hand in blessing to a kneeling gentleman, who is under attack from three men in armor, and near whose head a branch with three white roses emerges. This represents a miracle associated with the rosary, where a man was saved from his attackers when he knelt and prayed, and the Virgin of the Rosary appeared. Each Ave Maria he recited became a rose, which the Virgin wove into a garland. Although the armor of the attackers is somewhat archaic, the kneeling figure wears contemporary clothing, which may indicate that his likeness is that of the donor of the painting. To the left of the Virgin kneels Saint Dominic who, due to a mistake of identification with Dominic of Prussia, was traditionally associated with the rosary cult. He is identified by his attribute, a dog with a burning torch in his mouth. Behind the saint kneels a pope, an emperor, and a king, who together represent the Christian Estates. Their appearances are somewhat generic, but it is possible that they are meant to represent the contemporary Leo X, Maximilian I, and a young Charles V, respectively.
Bauman (1989) related the iconography and composition of this multi-scene picture with a somewhat obscure Spanish woodcut, signed and dated by Brother Francisco Doménech in 1488. It is the only known print that relates closely with the imagery of The Met painting. A modern impression can be found in the Museum's collection (57.526
). This print shows the same arrangement of the fifteen mysteries in three groups of five, above a similar scene of the Virgin of the Rosary flanked by the Christian Estates and the miracle of the nobleman who prayed the rosary.
The background landscape of the bottom scene of The Met's altarpiece accurately depicts the park, or Warande
(pleasure grounds), of the Coudenberg palace of the dukes of Brabant in Brussels as it appeared in the early sixteenth century. At the upper left corner is the then-collegiate church of Saint Gudula in Brussels—later the Cathedral of Saints Michael and Gudula. This accurate depiction corresponds with a sketch of the area made by Albrecht Dürer probably on August 27 or 28, 1520, in Brussels, during his sojourn to the Netherlands in 1520–21 (Akademie der bildenden Künste, Kupferstichkabinett, Vienna; see fig. 1 above). The drawing is monogrammed and dated, and it carries Dürer’s inscription: Dz ist zw prüssel der dirgartn und die lust dindn aws dem schlos hinab zw sehn
(This is the game park and pleasure grounds in Brussels looking out from the back of the palace). Such a view from an upper window of the palace, depicted in both the drawing and the painting, suggests a privileged connection of each artist with the ducal court. The painting also indicates a particular relationship with the Dominicans and with the cult of the Virgin of the Rosary. Bauman suggested a possible candidate for the patron of the painting as one of the lords of the Ravensteyn, a prestigious family of Brussels, who had given the Dominicans the part of their hôtel that was contiguous with the Dominican convent and church, established in 1464 (Bauman 1989; Sintobin 1998). He noted that Adolf of Cleves, lord of Ravensteyn (1425–1492), grandson of John the Fearless and nephew of Philip the Good, commissioned stained-glass windows for the Dominican church. Furthermore, his son Philip (ca. 1459–1527) built a chapel in the church in 1524 that served as a mausoleum for himself and his wife.
Such small-scale, multi-scene ensembles of the life of Christ and the Virgin are known in both manuscript illumination, such as Simon Bening’s Stein Quadriptych
, and panel paintings such as the Triptych with Scenes from the Life of Christ
by a Bruges Follower of Hans Memling (formerly with the dealer Rob Smeets, Milan) or the Altarpiece of the Life of Jesus
by an anonymous Dutch master (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam). The original framing of the ensemble no longer exists, eliminating any technical evidence that The Met altarpiece once had wings, perhaps with devotional texts or prayers. However, this possibility cannot be excluded.The Attribution and Date:
Although originally attributed to Hans Memling (Lefort 1878 and Provenance), some scholars subsequently identified the artist as Goswijn (also spelled Goswin or Goossen) van der Weyden, a grandson of the celebrated Netherlandish painter Rogier van der Weyden. Held (1943) was the first to suggest this identification when he compared the scenes in the ensemble to Goswijn’s style, and the millefleur ground cover in the bottom section to the artist’s 1507 Triptych of Abbot Antonius Tsgrooten
(Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp; fig. 2). Supporting this attribution, Bauman (1989) proposed a stylistic similarity to Goswijn’s Crucifixion Triptych
of about 1517 (D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts, Springfield, Massachusetts; fig. 3). However, the figures in The Met painting show more relaxed and natural poses than the stiff postures of those in the 1507 Antwerp altarpiece and are nothing like the elongated body proportions and proto-Antwerp Mannerist, agitated draperies of the 1517 Springfield triptych. Moreover, although painted rapidly and with great assurance (see Technical Notes), the rather bland, generalized facial types of all the figures in the Virgin of the Rosary
do not match the more individualized treatment and expressions of the heads in the other two paintings.
The oeuvre of Goswijn has been reconsidered in recent years in relationship to the tradition of Rogier van der Weyden in Brussels, and due to the acquisition of the Saint Dymphna Altarpiece by the Phoebus Foundation in Antwerp. Annick Born and Maximiliaan Martens note a heterogeneous style, and Matthijs Ilsink cites the absence of a signature style in Goswijn’s (Goosen’s) works. In any event, the characteristics of the paintings attributed to Goswijn are not matched by The Met altarpiece. This is in regard not only to questions of style, but also of working procedures. Technical examination so far of a number of the panels attributed to Goswijn reveal a very thorough underdrawing, not only for the composition, but also for the modeling of the figures. The Met Virgin of the Rosary
paintings, by contrast, show no perceptible underdrawing (see Technical Notes).
Although Goswijn was born in Brussels,  his career post-1492 was in Lier and then in Antwerp where he served as the dean of the painters’ guild in 1514 and 1530. He apparently had little to do with Brussels where it is far more likely that The Met ensemble was painted. As W. R. Valentiner noted in a February 26, 1943 certificate, The Met paintings appear closer to the style of Bernard van Orley. In fact, they are not so distant from other scenes of Christ’s Passion of around 1520 from the circle of Van Orley in The Met’s collection —Four Scenes from the Passion
). The Fifteen Mysteries of the Virgin of the Rosary
share the diminutive, manuscript-illumination-like scale and the general palette dominated by reds, blues, purples, and yellows of the Van Orley follower’s scenes. However, the former does not adopt the more energetic poses and fluttering draperies influenced by Antwerp Mannerism of the latter. Typical of Van Orley, as is true of the painter of the Virgin of the Rosary
, is the influence of Albrecht Dürer’s prints on his oeuvre. In the tight cropping of the scenes and the reduction of figures to those essential for the theme, the paintings in The Met altarpiece follow Dürer’s prints, namely those from the Small Woodcut Passion
(1511). The Annunciation
, the Resurrection
, and the Ascension
served as models for our painter, who adapted Dürer’s compositions (notably deleting the foreground Apostle in the Ascension
; see 19.73.173
, and 1975.653.56
). A date of about 1515–20 for the Virgin of the Rosary
altarpiece is suggested by connections with Dürer’s prints from the Small Woodcut Passion
that circulated throughout the Netherlands in those years and thereafter. Although we cannot yet attribute this altarpiece to a known artist, it is most likely that he worked in Brussels, perhaps in the circle of Van Orley.
Maryan W. Ainsworth 2012, updated 2022
 Acquired in 1984, this altarpiece was first fully researched and discussed in an article by Guy C. Bauman in the Metropolitan Museum Journal
in 1989 (Bauman 1989). This entry presents a summary of Bauman’s findings concerning the iconography of the work as well as an alternative proposal to the attribution.
 The thirteenth-century German legend in which Ave Marias are transformed into lilies is found in Franz Pfeiffer, Marienlegenden: Dichtungen des dreizehnten Jahrhunderts met erläuternden Sach-und Wort-Erklärungen
, new ed., Vienna, 1863, pp. 105–9, no. xv, as in Bauman (1989), p. 140 and n. 13.
 The copper plate for this print is preserved in the Chalcographie Royale de Belgique in Brussels, but all the extant impressions are modern.
 For the related bibliography, see most recently Dürer war hier, eine Reise wird Legende
. Exh. cat., Peter van den Brink, ed., Suermondt Ludwig Museum, Aachen and The National Gallery, London, 2021–22, p. 287, fig. 175, p. 620, no. 38.
 See Lynn Ransom, The Stein Quadriptych: a Vita Christi by Simon Bening: commentary to the fine art facsimile edition of the Stein Quadriptych in the Walters Museum Baltimore, W 442
, Simbach am Inn, Germany, 2014.
 Dirk De Vos, ed., Hans Memling
, Exh. cat., Groeningemuseum, Bruges, 1994, Brussels, 1994, no. 90, pp. 233–36; and Max J. Friedlander, Early Netherlandish Painting, vol. III: Dieric Bouts and Joos van Ghent
, Comments and Notes by Nicole Veronee-Verhaegen, Sijthoff, Leyden, 1968, pl. 57.
 Annick Born and Maximiliaan P. J. Martens, “Goossen van der Weyden and the Transmission of the Rogeresque Tradition from Brussels to Antwerp,” in Lorne Campbell, Jan van der Stock, Catherine Reynolds, and Lieve Watteeuw, eds., Rogier van der Weyden in Context, Papers presented at the Seventeenth Symposium for the Study of Underdrawing and Technology in Painting held in Leuven, 22–24 October 2009
, Paris, 2012, pp. 340–51; See also Van Dorst 2020.
 Matthijs Ilsink in Van Dorst 2020, pp. 206–14.
 See Till-Holger Borchert in Van Dorst 2020, p. 149, who questions the attribution to Goswijn van der Weyden.
 See Born and Martens 2012 (as note 7 above); and Van Dorst and Koopstra in Van Dorst 2020, pp. 229–33 and 252–57.
 For the life and works of Goossen van der Weyden, see Stephan Kemperdick in Van Dorst 2020, pp. 116–28.
 Kept in the Department of European Paintings Curatorial Files.
 For the influence of Dürer’s works on Van Orely, see most recently: Bernard van Orley
. Exh. cat., Véronique Bücken and Ingrid De Meȗter, eds., Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, 2019, passim.
 This connection was mentioned by Guy Bauman (1989, p. 149), but only for Dürer’s Annunciation