1455 • Seven Sacraments Altarpiece • Rogier van der Weyden
A primary source supporting the proposition that the Arnolfini Portrait depicts Philip the Good and wife Isabella is a painting by Jan Van Eyck’s contemporary Rogier van der Weyden, titled The Seven Sacraments Altarpiece. The tryptich was probably completed in 1455, fourteen years after the death of Van Eyck, and is currently housed at the Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp.
Van der Weyden’s painting is a remarkable tribute to Jan van Eyck who is acknowledged in all of the seven featured sacraments recognised by the Catholic Church: Baptism, Confirmation, Reconciliation, Eucharist, Holy Orders, Marriage and Extreme Unction (Last Rites), now referred to as Anointing of the Sick.
The scene illustrating the sixth sacrament, shows the marriage of Charles the Bold to the French princess Isabelle of Bourbon, in October 1454. It was an arranged marriage to fulfill the conditions of the Treaty of Arras between France and Burgundy made earlier in 1435. The two witneses are Philip and Isabella in the guise of Jan van Eyck and his wife Margaret. The lap dog (symbol of faith) is also present at the feet of the woman in the green dress upholding the Word of God (bearer of the Good News), a similar symbolic gesture to the woman typified as the Virgin Mary in the Arnolfini Portrait upholding the Infant in her womb. The seated woman also echoes the figure in a section of an earlier painting by Van der Weyden, The Magdalen Reading, and forms a bridge to the next scene, the seventh sacrament and the last rites
The young boy in blue at the side of the bride – a page boy – is likely to be Louis Rolin, the youngest son of the priest binding the couple in marriage. He served at court and later as a councilor to Charles. The priest is Nicholas Rolin, Chancellor to Philip the Good, and a central figure in drafting the Treaty of Arras.
Is he also the same central figure – the man in blue – featured in the mirror reflection of the Arnolfini Portrait with Van Eyck beside him?
Details about Van Eyck’s inclusion in other Sacraments can be found at the page: SEVEN SACRAMENTS.
Seven Sacraments Altarpiece
Roger van der Weyden
Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp
1472 • Histoire de Charles Martel • David Aubert, Loyset Liédet
This was a four-volume work on the life of Charles Martel, Charlemagne’s grandfather, commissioned by Philip the Good and written by court scribe David Aubert over a three-year period, 1463-65. After Philip’s death in 1467, the Duke’s only surviving son from his marriage to Isabella, Charles the Bold, commissioned Loyset Liédet to paint 123 minatures for the book. The work was finally completed in 1472.
One of the illustrations is titled Charles the Bold surprising David Aubert and reproduced below. However, the title is somewhat of a misnomer.
The Magdalen Reading
Roger van der Weyden
National Gallery, London
Charles the Bold Visits David Aubert in his Scriptorium.
Illuminated by Loyset Liédet between 1467 and 1472.
Histoire de Charles Martel,
Brussels, KBR, ms. 8, f. 7
© Bibliothèque royale de Belgique
The image shows David Aubert at work and Charles the Bold ‘hiding’ behind one of three blue pillars representing the three theological virtues of heavenly grace, faith hope and love – attributes of the Virgin Mary who is “full of grace”. Several objects from The Arnolfini Portrait are also found in Liédet’s illustration: Chandelier, mirror, prayer beads, brush, oranges, dog, chair, as well as an inscription on the wall. All combine to make deliberate reference to The Arnolfini Portrait. There are other less obvious associations, for instance: the cupboard is an altar covered with an altar cloth; the back of the altar has a central cross; the two books on the floor represent the two tablets of the Law; the brown central tiles are manna from heaven.
Probably the most revealing aspects are two ‘hidden’ features from The Arnolfini Portrait which Liédet has brought to light, confirming that he had knowledge of the mystery Van Eyck had woven into his painting.
The blue marble pillar that hides Charles the Bold is a reference to the blue tower Charles built at one of his castles where he went to live after a dispute with his father. It is also symbolic of Our Lady of the Pillar, an attribute of the Virgin Mary. The sun-patterned object on the altar is a monstrance that holds the Eucharist, the Body of Christ. Both Charles and the Eucharist were ‘hidden’ in the Van Eyck painting; the Eucharist was behind the mirror, a tabernacle door, while the newly-born Charles was absent from the room, or possibly still in his mother’s womb.
The man in the foreground, dressed in green and black, is a dual representation of Charles’ father and mother. In The Arnolfini Portrait Philip wore black and Isabella was dressed in a green gown with a blue undergarment (represented by the blue pillar and its marbling as water – grace– flowing from above).
The two smaller figures placed beside the other pillars represent the two extinguished candles in Van Eyck’s chandelier, (the two sons of Philip and Isabella who both died at an early age in 1432).
The four figures standing behind the artist David Aubert are not without significance. As yet unidentified, they are possibly connected to the reflection in Van Eyck’s mirror, particularly the person wearing the blue gown.
1525 • The Annunciation • Joos van Cleve
In 1525 Joos van Cleve produced a panel painting of The Annunciation, mirroring Van Eyck’s double portrait painted 80 years earlier. It’s resemblance to the Arnolfini Portrait is obvious with the reproduction of many of the symbols and references used by Van Eyck.
Van Cleve also makes a very distinct acknowledgement to Van Eyck by portraying the bed’s curtain sack in the style of headwear associated with Van Eyck, the red chaperon. “Hat tip to Jan” so to speak.
The placement is at the horizontal level Van Eyck inscribed his name in his double portrait, a position referred to in a coat of arms as the helmet or visor, and confirms that Van Cleve uderstood the significance and reason why Van Eyck placed his signature where he did. It is also noticeable that Van Cleve has created a facial feature as well, suggesting an open visor on the helmet. Though somewhat contorted, this is a subtle reference to the distortion reflected in Van Eyck’s mirror, hence the placement of Van Cleve’s mirror next to the chaperon.
Charles the Bold, the fourth and last Duke of Burgundy.
Just like the pattens belonging to Philip the Good in The Arnolfini Portrait, Van Cleve has placed the angel’s feet in a position to point to a passage in Scripture – verse 26 in chapter 1 of St Luke’s Gospel describing the Annunciation. The ‘apron’ image of Moses placed to the right of the chandelier is another reference to Van Eyck’s work. So is the embossed plate with its radiant sun seal and the lit candle in front of it. The angel Gabriel holds Aaron’s rod. The cross in the window and the communion wafer motifs are also included, as are the window shutters representing the two sets of tablets given to Moses with the written Law. The octagonal-shape groups of tiles correspond to outer crusts of unleavened bread representing manna from heaven.
The white pillow represents the Stone of Jacob referred to in Genesis (28 : 10-22) and is a ‘keystone’ for aligning the Van Cleve painting to the Arnolfini Portrait and revealing more of its mystery.
Jacob had used the stone as a pillow when he lay down to sleep one night. God appeared in his dream and promised to give Jacob and his descendants the land he lay on, saying the number of his descendants would be like specks on the ground. When he awoke Jacob exclaimed: “This is nothing less than the House of God; this is the gate of heaven!” The latter reference is a title attributed to the Virgin Mary.
Jacob then went on to consecrate the stone and make a vow:
“If God goes with me and keeps me safe on this journey I am making, if he gives me bread to eat and clothes to wear, and if I return home safely to my father, then Yaweh shall be my God. This stone I have set up as a monument shall be a house of God.”
Genesis 28 : 20-21
Promise, Covenant, Vow, Gift, Descendants, House of God, Gate of Heaven, Consecration, and Bread, are all relevant to Van Eyck’s double portrait. Van Cleve also draws on Scripture again with the stone pillow symbol, from Luke 11 : 12 – “What father would hand his son a stone when he asked for bread? Or hand him a snake instead of a fish? Or hand him a scorpion if he asked for an egg?
A close inspection of the stone pillow – a loaf of bread – reveals the snake, fish, scorpion and egg.
The white pillow sits parallel with the white cloth under the colourful triptych whose outside panels show two characters from the Old Testament, Abram (left) and Melchizadek (right). It was Melchizedek, “King of Salem [which means peace] and a priest of the Most High God”, who brought out gifts of bread and wine to Abram on his return from defeat in battle. The gift or grace theme is continued on the inside panel with the depiction of the Magi bringing their treasures to the new-born Saviour (Matthew 2).
This partially revealed scene of the Three Kings provides another clue to mystery of the men reflected in Van Eyck’s mirror. The brightly decorated altarpiece is a tabernacle. Its illustrations show a transition from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant and represent the veil mentioned by St Paul in his letter to the Hebrews 6 : 19-20 – “Here we have an anchor for our soul, as sure as it is firm, and reaching right through the veil where Jesus has entered before us and on our behalf, to become a high priest of the order of Melchizedek, and for ever.”
In other words, when we establish the mystery of the refelection in Van Eyck’s mirror we reach the place where the Real Presence in the Eucharist is placed behind its cover. In Van Cleve’s painting the partially revealed cover is the depiction of the Magi (men of mystery) – Wise Men, men who possess knowledge and therefore power. The same three men depicted in the Arnolfini Portrait, two in the mirror and one alongside Isabella. Three Wise Men.
So the Arnolfini Portrait may be considered as a work depicting the Adoration of the Magi. The three men are presenting themselves to Mary the Mother of the new-born Jesus, and to Isabella, the mother of the new-born Charles Martin. The Child Jesus and the child Charles are not seen in a visible sense, but with eyes of faith. Van Eyck is saying that his painting depicts the presence of Charles. He cannot be seen, but there are outward signs that confirm his presence in the world. Likewise the Real Pesence in the Eucharist. The painting shows symbolic signs of bread that can be understood and seen, but the inner presence, its essence, is hidden and can only be accepted with faith.
So who are the Three Wise Men? Philip certainly, and probably the two closest advisors to him at the time: Nicholas Rolin, his chancellor, and Jean Chevrot, bishop of Tournai. More on this at: REFLECTIONS
1866 • Jesus Meets His Mother • Louis Hendrix
This is one in a set of fourteen Stations of the Cross displayed in Our Lady Cathedral, Antwerp, painted by two artists, Louis Hendrix and Frans Vinck, between 1864 and 1868.
Joos van Cleve, 1525
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Portrait of a Man
(Jan van Eyck self-portrait?)
National Gallery, London
Detail of the curtain bag depicted as Van Eyck’s familiar headdress.
Van Cleve’s reference to the Stone of Jacob with its subtle impressions of a snake, a fish and an egg.
A close up on the altar tryptich and its depictions of the Adoration of the Magi, Melchezedek and Abram.
IV Station of the Cross
Jesus Meets His Mother
Antwerp Cathedral, Belgium
Louis Hendrix 1866
photo © Kikirpa
photo by Jean-Luc Elias
Like the composition of the Arnolfini Portrait this fourth station in a series of fourteen is structured as a coat of arms. The guard on the extreme right is depicted in the stance of a ‘supporter’ and is matched on the opposite side by the ‘support’ group of Mary, John and the ‘weeping woman’. In the centre is the breast-plated, ‘shielded’ soldier as a ‘lion rampant’. The ‘supporter’ standing on the right side is dressed in the colours of red, black and yellow, depicting (in that order) the colours of the flag used for the Brabant Revolution of 1789-90. It’s motto was Unione Salus – “In union, salvation”, reiterating the teaching of Jesus given in Matthew’s Gospel (12 : 25), “A household divided can never stand.” The station’s theme may also have been influenced by Abraham Lincoln’s ‘House Divided’ speech made just a few years earlier in June 1858.
The grilled window represents the helmet or visor feature on a coat of arms, recalling the Van Eyck ‘signature’.
This is also the painting showing a woman wearing a green dress which led me to discover the Arnolfini Portrait. The woman’s pearl-shaped headwear denotes her name is Margaret. This is likely to be a reference to Van Eyck’s wife Margaret who supposedly modelled for the depiction of Isabella in the Arnolfini Portrait. The placing of the duchess Isabella between her son Charles the Bold and her husband Philip the Good is telling, and emphasises the station’s theme of a house being divided. Later in life father and son became enstranged after a bitter quarrel. Likewise did Isabella and Philip because of her husband’s philandering and growing family of illegitimate children. Charles and his father eventually reconciled in 1465, two years before Philip’s death. By placing Isabella on the left and Philip on the right the positions are in reverse to Van Eyck’s placing, perhaps suggesting the role Isabella played in governing the Burgundy states during her husband’s absence.
Notice the hand gesture of St John, mirroring the raised hand of Philip in the Arnolfini Portrait, and also the left hand of the woman in green placed across her middle and pointing to her son, the same stance adopted by Isabella in Van Eyck’s painting.
The figure of Mary, the mother of Jesus, is placed in front of a white tower. This refers to one of her many attributes, Ivory Tower (Song of Solomon 7 : 4) and also the title portrayed in the Liédet illustration, Lady of the Pillar. And here the connection is made again to Charles the Bold and his castle, for the tower behind Mary is capped with bluestone and so alludes to the blue tower associated with Charles.
Other references to the Arnolfini Portrait include the portrayal of Christ carrying his cross, also depicted in one of the roundels in Van Eyck’s mirror; the two ‘wise men’ in the window frame with a representation of Van Eyck standing underneath; the perfect formation of the cobbled stone path – a straight way on the journey – a reminder of the manna that fell to the ground as bread from heaven; and the mirror reference of the soldier’s reflective armour positioned in the centre of the frame.
But probably the most significant reference is the placement of Jan van Eyck and his brother Hubert at either end of the line standing on the balcony. They are there in the role of ‘supporters’ and to affirm that both painters served the ducal court. More importantly their positions at each end of the line of elevated personages point to the name Arnoult fin which was ascribed to the Arnolfini Portrait in 1523, and was Jan’s pun referring to the end of the dynastic line of rulers stemming from St Arnulf of Metz.
Another indicator to identifying Jan van Eyck (positioned directly under the window) is the man standing to his right with his face covered by the beam of the cross. He appears to be holding a small object in the fingers of his left hand – a reference to two of Van Eyck’s paintings showing men holding a ring: Portrait of a Man in a Blue Chaperon and Portrait of Jan de Leeuw.