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Marten van Heemskerck, 'The Donor and Saint Mary Magdalene', about 1540

Key facts
Full title The Donor and Saint Mary Magdalene
Artist Marten van Heemskerck
Artist dates 1498 - 1574
Series Two Shutters from a Triptych
Date made about 1540
Medium and support Oil on oak
Dimensions 125.7 × 47.7 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1986
Inventory number NG6508.2
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
The Donor and Saint Mary Magdalene
Marten van Heemskerck

A statuesque Mary Magdalene, one of Christ’s followers, rests her fingers on the shoulder of a kneeling donor. In the other hand, she nonchalantly lifts a large golden vessel. This is the pot containing the precious ointment with which she anointed Christ’s feet (Luke 7:37). In sharp contrast to her colourful opulence, the donor is a serious-looking middle-aged man dressed as a canon. He appears to be both balding and tonsured.

This is one of two shutters from a triptych (a painting made up of three sections), the central part of which is lost. We are not sure who or where they were made for, but the coats of arms painted on the back of the panels are similar to those of the Hamal and Kersbeke families. The donor may have been a canon whose father was a Hamal and whose mother was a Kersbeke.

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Two Shutters from a Triptych


These two panels formed the shutters of an altarpiece and are painted on both sides. On the front left we see the Virgin Mary and Saint John the Evangelist, and on the right, Saint Mary Magdalene and the donor. The reverses show two bishop saints and coats of arms (unidentified).

The central panel is lost. It was probably, although not certainly, a painting, showing the suffering Christ. If it was a painting, and was put into a frame at the same time as the present old, but not original, frame, its painted surface would have measured about 123.5 by 107.5 cm. Various suggestions have been made as to panels by Marten van Heemskerck which might fit the bill.