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Marten van Heemskerck, The Virgin and Saint John the Evangelist

Key facts
Full title The Virgin and Saint John the Evangelist
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 × 47.8 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1986
Inventory number NG6508.1
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
The Virgin and Saint John the Evangelist
Marten van Heemskerck

A youthful Saint John the Evangelist supports a grey-faced and anguished Virgin Mary. This is one of two shutters from a triptych (a painting made up of three sections), which presumably flanked an image of the suffering Christ.

The back is painted too, and shows a bishop holding an open book, standing above a shield with a coat of arms. Two keys hang from a cord on his left wrist. Aside from the shield beneath his feet, everything is rendered in tones of black, grey and white. The bishop’s identity remains uncertain, though he may be Saint Peter, to whom Christ metaphorically gave the keys of the kingdom of heaven.

The Virgin must have looked as if she was kneeling on the original frame, as did the donor in the other panel. The current frames are old but not original: they seem to have been replaced, for unknown reasons, while the shutters were still attached to the central panel.

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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.