The Marriage of Mary and Joseph
Discovering a fifth painting by Rogier van der Weyden that features Jan van Eyck and a third occasion in the role of St Joseph.
finding van eyck in the temple

 

The painting below is titled the Marriage of Joseph and Mary and attributed to the workshop of Roger van der Weyden. It is located in the Cathedral of Our Lady, Antwerp.

Measuring 128 cm x 105 cm it forms one side of a panel painted on both sides. The reverse is titled the Tiburtin Sybil and is in poor condition.

Marriage of Mary and Joseph

attributed to:

Rogier van der Weyden workshop, between 1451 and 1475.

Cathedral of Our Lady, Queen of Heaven, Antwerp

The marriage scene is based on a story of Mary’s betrothal featured in The Golden Legend, a medieval collection of stories of the saints. This account was drawn from two non-canonical gospels – the Protoevangelium  of James and the Gospel of Pseudo Matthew.

The medieval account records that the parents of Mary, Joachim and Anna, presented their daughter as a Temple virgin dedicated to God’s service when she was just three years old. When Mary reached womanhood she, along with the other Temple virgins were ordered by the high priest to return home for marriages to be arranged for them. However, Mary declared that she had made a vow of virginity to God and so the high priest sought guidance from God in prayer. A loud voice was heard commanding all the men of the House of David who had not taken a wife to come to the Temple with a branch to lay on the altar. The voice proclaimed that one of the branches would bloom and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove would land on it and so reveal God’s choice of man to be betrothed to Mary. Joseph was chosen.

The painting is divided vertically into two scenes. The left side shows the line of men in the temple and those who are eligible holding branches. The right side is the marriage ceremony.

As in two other of his other paintings, Van der Weyden has depicted Jan van Eyck in the role of Joseph. 

The composition and theme is modelled on a similar work, The Betrothal of the Virgin, painted by another Flemish artist, Robert Campin, sometime between 1420 and 1430 and now housed at the Museo del Pradon in Madrid.

of artists and patrons

 

The assembly of men inside the church is of Flemish artists and patrons from the 15th century (similarly in the temple of the Campin painting). The two principal patrons are Philip the Good, duke of Burgundy, and his son Charles the Bold. Although unidentified, it is likely that the kneeling priest is also a patron of the arts. Philip is sixth from the left, with his hand raised as in blessing, mirroring his portrayal in Jan Van Eyck’s painting, the Arnolfini Portrait. Charles is tucked in the corner wearing a gold jacket. His presentation stance is also a mirror image given to him by Van der Weyden in the Columba Altarpiece depicting the Visitation of the Three Kings. As in this work, Charles is presenting his goldsmith, Gerárd Loyet, kneeling in front of him. 

The main focus of the group is an ageing and sickly Jan van Eyck, gripping the smooth marble pillar with his right hand. He died in 1441, age 51. His overcoat is drawn back by the turbaned man standing next to him to reveal the flowered branch that was a sign of his selection to be the husband of Mary.

The group of eight men behind Jan are all likely to be artists. Certainly the turbaned man with the beard is Robert Campin, a figure who features in other paintings associated with Rogier van der Weyden and often portrayed as the biblical David. On his right and behind Jan is the subject in Van Eyck’s painting titled, Portrait of a Man (L’éal Souvenir) which is housed at the National Gallery in London. His clothes and their colouring are identical in both portraits and facial features are also matched.

The National Gallery describes its painting thus:

The words 'Léal Souvenir' (Loyal Remembrance) are painted on the parapet as though carved into the stone. They may mean that the portrait is an accurate likeness or, conceivably, that it was a posthumous, commemorative likeness. The sitter has not been identified; he is not grandly dressed and is unlikely to be an aristocrat or a cleric. 

 

The inscription in Greek letters has been read as Tymotheus’ (Timothy), but it seems to be a transliteration into Greek script of two words in Latin, ‘tum otheos’ meaning ‘Then God’. What this signifies is not clear.

 

The reverse of the picture is painted in imitation of marble. The translation of the inscription along the bottom of the parapet reads 'Done in the year of Our Lord 1432 on the 10th day of October by Jan van Eyck'

Because of the man’s close proximity to Jan, I would venture to suggest Timothy was a close friend of Van Eyck and the references to God and Our Lord are pointers to Scripture, in particular, St Paul’s close relationship with his disciple Timothy whom he mentored. When Paul was imprisoned in Rome and awaiting martyrdom, he summoned his faithful friend for a final farewell: “Do your best to come and see me as soon as you can.” (2 Timothy 4 : 6-9)

The reference to Timothy and the apostle’s second letter to his disciple speaks about Paul being “in the evening of his life” and this can also be seen as a reference to Van Eyck’s ageing appearance in the painting and his role of St Joseph as being considerably older than Mary when they were betrothed.

Portrait of a Man (L’éal Souvenir)

Jan van Eyck, 1432

National Gallery, London

The man immediately above Timothy resembles the painter Dieric Bouts (c1415-1475). Half hidden behind Jan’s head is probably the Bruges goldsmith Jan de Leeuw, painted by Van Eyck, and considered by art historians as someone close to the artist.

 

To the right of Robert Campin are two figures. On the extreme right is probably the artist...

Exposition of the Arnolfini Portrait

Text © bernard gallagher, 2016/17/18/19

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