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l'Ancien Claeissens

The Virgin and Child with Donor and an Angel


l'Ancien Claeissens
Bruges (?) 1499 or 1500 – Bruges (?) 1576


The Virgin and Child with Donor and an Angel


About 1555-1560


Oil on wood


98.4 x 73.6 cm


Gift of Michel Van Tieghem, inv. 2019.63


Western Art

Pieter Claeissens the Elder was a prominent painter in mid-sixteenth-century Bruges. Like the younger Pieter Pourbus, whose work is also exhibited in this room, Claeissens received various public and ecclesiastical commissions and held various elected offices. Between 1570 and 1573, he painted a Resurrection for St. Saviour’s Church, now the Cathedral of Bruges. Moreover, like Pourbus, he also was a portraitist. His art is transitional between the Early Netherlandish traditions of the fifteenth and early sixteenth century in Bruges and the more fluidly applied and painterly Flemish art that emerged later in the century.

This picture is rich in traditional iconographic elements, including the angel offering grapes to the Infant Christ, symbolic of the wine of the Eucharist; and the Virgin seated on a throne, before a cloth of honor, as Queen of Heaven. Her red robe refers to the future suffering and sacrifice of her Son. At mid-century, a re-appreciation of the works of Hieronymus Bosch (d. 1516) swept through Flanders, and this interest is reflected in the fantastical architecture of the Jerusalem Temple and the fountain in the right background. An angel is shown pouring water into the fountain. The figure in the left foreground, probably the patron, is depicted in the early stages of a form of tuberculoid leprosy called facies leonina. According to the Gospel of John (5:2-7), divine action troubled (moved) the waters of the pool of Bethesda which spurred its healing properties. A fragmentary inscription under the current frame is dedicated to the Virgin. In nearby Brussels in the later Middle Ages, lepers were served by the nuns of Maria Colentes. The identification of the patron figure remains conjectural. Holding his spectacles and a book, probably a devotional Book of Hours, he might be, as his clothing suggests, a Hospital Brother of the order of St. Anthony Abbot, who was appealed to against skin diseases. That order flourished in Flanders in the medieval and Renaissance periods.

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