Renaissance | Second half of the 16th Century | Ca. 1560/80
A Portrait of an Augustinian Sister / The Christ Child of the ‘Mystical Marriage’ verso
Oil on panel
H. 39,4 cm. | D. 27,8 cm.
Private collection | New York | As by Maerten de Vos (Antwerp, 1532 – Antwerp, 1603);
Private collection | United States of America
Hermesdorf, A., Huvenne, P. and Koldeweij, J. (2006). De schilderkunst der Lage Landen: De Middeleeuwen en de zestiende eeuw. Amsterdam University Press, 2006, pp. 262–263
The present piece is a fragment of the right wig of a triptych, which has been reduced in size both at the top and the bottom. The inside depicts a woman wearing a white coif, which indicates a female member of the Augustinian Order, possibly the donor of the altarpiece. Behind her (a fragment) of a standing figure is depicted, usually the Patron Saint of the portrayed. Formally this work was given to the Antwerp Mannerist master Maerten de Vos. The composition of the present work relates to a wing depicting John the Baptist together with a male donor (RKD nr. 34875), attributed to Maerten de Vos. Another side-wing given to De Vos – comparable in both style and use of colour and pigments – depicting the Resurrection of Christ and Saint Martin verso (resp. RKD nr. 224531 and 224532) shows the practice of applying the scenes directly on the reverse of the panel, indicating that the present piece may have been painted in the workshop of De Vos or its immediate circle.
The reverse of the panel shows the Christ Child on the lap of the Virgin, presenting a ring. This scene is part of an iconographical representation known as the Mystic(al) Marriage of Saint Catherine. In Western art this vision of Saint Catherine usually shows the Infant Christ, held by the Virgin, placing a ring on her finger. Saint Catherine would have been depicted on the backside side of the left panel. When closed, the wings would display the entire scene. The Mystical Marriage iconography held special significance within female monastic orders.