The panels in this triptych (painting in three parts) show a garden with fruit trees, cypresses and other, unidentifiable trees planted in careful rows. Daisies, buttercups, violets and lilies of the valley carpet the foreground.
In the centre panel, we see an elaborate building filled with dazzling light suggestive of paradise. The Virgin Mary sits on a round table, reading, with the naked Christ Child on a cushion at her feet. He holds a small bird in one hand. They are accompanied by four female saints, including Saint Catherine with her wheel and sword, and possibly Saints Barbara and Dorothy.
Saint John the Baptist appears on the left wing with his emblem of a lamb. In the background walk Saint Agnes, with her lamb, and Saint Agatha, carrying the pincers with which she was tortured for her Christian faith. On the right is Saint John the Evangelist holding his emblem, a chalice, which he is blessing with his other hand.
This painting seems to show a kind of celestial garden party. We see a ‘paradise’ garden with fruit tree, cypresses and other, unidentifiable trees planted in careful rows. Daisies, buttercups, violets, stocks and lilies of the valley carpet the foreground.
In the centre panel we see an elaborate building, vaguely resembling a Gothic church, with pinnacles and balustrades. It is filled with a dazzling light suggestive of paradise. On the grass in front of the building is an ornamental fountain with a group of angels and female saints seated around it; some of them hold musical instruments. The Virgin Mary sits on a round table, reading, with the naked Christ Child on a cushion at her feet; he holds a small bird in one hand.
On the left is Saint Catherine, in red and green; you can just see the wheel on which she was tortured, now broken, poking out from under her skirts. She holds out the wedding ring of her ‘mystic marriage’ with Christ (a way of visualising her spiritual union with him, as in The Virgin and Child with Saints Catherine and Barbara). Behind her may be Saint Barbara, with whom she was often paired in medieval and Renaissance art. On the right, one figure, possibly Saint Dorothy, holds pink and white roses in her skirt and shares them with another saint. The three seem to be making a coronet of fruit and flowers: on the table is a circlet, a reel of thread, rose petals and cherries. Saint Barbara was occasionally shown holding or making coronets or garlands, while Saint Dorothy sent a flower-scented headdress to a pagan lawyer who asked her for flowers from her bridegroom’s garden as she was on her way to be executed.
Saint John the Baptist appears on the left wing with his emblem of a lamb. In the background walk two early Christian martyrs, Saint Agnes, with her symbol of a lamb (a pun on her name, which resembles agnus, the Latin word for a lamb). Next to her is Saint Agatha. She carries pincers which hold one of her own severed breasts, torn off as she was tortured for her Christian faith. On the right wing is Saint John the Evangelist holding his emblem, a chalice, which he is blessing. Behind him two angels stand under the trees, while a female saint picks roses and gathers them into the folds of her garment.
The artist has taken many ideas from The Virgin and Child with Saints and Donors (The Donne Triptych) and other paintings by Hans Memling. He could be a follower of Quinten Massys who clung to an affection for Memling’s work, and did not embrace all the innovations of Massys and Jean Gossart. The panels in this triptych once had arched tops, possibly like a larger related painting that is now in the Escorial, Madrid.
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