This was once the left wing of a triptych (a painting made up of three sections) which showed a man and woman with their patron saints on either side of an image of the Virgin and Christ Child.
Here, Saint Clement stands behind a man, presumably the male donor who paid for the triptych. The anchor in the saint’s hand is his attribute: he was martyred by being thrown into the Black Sea tied to an anchor. The other wing shows Saint Elizabeth with the woman. We don‘t know who the donors are, but they were presumably married and were probably named after their patron saints. The writing on the frame of our painting is a contraction of a Latin phrase and prayer to the Virgin and Child: ’May our faith let us feel that you are pleading our cause.'
The painting is now obscured by discoloured varnish – you can notice this especially on the faces – and has been much repainted, apparently during a restoration at the end of the nineteenth century.
This painting was once the left wing of a triptych which showed a man and woman with their patron saints on either side of an image of the Virgin and Christ Child. Here, Saint Clement presents a man to the Virgin. The saint wears the papal tiara and magnificent embroidered cope as Clement was one of the first popes. He holds his attribute of an anchor: he was martyred by being thrown into the Black Sea tied to an anchor. Saint Elizabeth accompanies the woman. The other panels from this triptych – Virgin and Child and Saint Elizabeth of Hungary with a Donatrix – are in private collections.
We don‘t know the identities of the donors, but they were presumably married, and were probably called Clement and Elizabeth after their patron saints. The writing on the frame, which may be copied from an original inscription, is a contraction of a Latin prayer to the Virgin and Child: credendo sentiamus quod pronobis depreceris (’May our faith let us feel that you are pleading our cause‘). The landscape behind the man in our panel continued across to the other two paintings; the angel was one of four flying angels, two of whom were placing a crown on the Virgin’s head.
We also don’t know the identity of the artist, but he was not hugely skilled. Saint Clement’s face is too large and the proportions of the heads to hands are different in each of the three panels. In all three, the noses are flattened and the hands are badly drawn and too narrow; the artist also had great difficulty placing the eyes. Like most of his contemporaries, the painter knew a good deal of the work of Rogier van der Weyden but the angels look rather like those in The Soul of Saint Bertin carried up to God and A Choir of Angels by Simon Marmion. The faces are similar to those in Marmion’s later manuscripts. It’s possible that our painter was a less skilled follower of Marmion, who may have trained in the artist’s workshop at Valenciennes before moving to Bruges.
Technical analysis shows us how the artist worked out his ideas during the course of the painting. He started by making an underdrawing on the chalk ground but didn't always follow it precisely. The underdrawing for the saint and the donor is quite detailed, but the saint’s tiara was altered during painting, the anchor was made bigger and realigned, and the donor’s mouth was changed. The landscape was sketched in and the sketches were not exactly followed. The angel may be an afterthought, painted over the blue of the sky.
The frame is original (although it was dismantled, and then reassembled) but it has been completely repainted; it seems originally to have been red-brown and probably marbled.
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