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A Choir of Angels: From Left Hand Shutter
Simon Marmion
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These musical angels were originally at the top of the left wing of an elborate altarpiece that sat at the high altar of the Abbey of St Bertin in Saint-Omer, northern France. Beneath them Guillaume Fillastre, abbot of St Bertin and the altarpiece’s commissioner, knelt at prayer inside a Gothic building – you can see its top at the bottom of this panel..

The angels play instruments that look like shawms, a Renaissance forerunner of the oboe. The symbols on the scroll held by the two lower angels are not real musical notation and were never readable. On the back, a Gothic stone canopy is painted in grisaille (shades of black, white and grey).

When the wings of the altarpiece were closed, this panel and its twin, The Soul of Saint Bertin carried up to God, would have covered the gilded silver Crucifixion in the centre of the altarpiece.

Key facts
Artist Simon Marmion
Artist dates active 1449; died 1489
Full title A Choir of Angels: From Left Hand Shutter
Group Fragments of Shutters from the St Bertin Altarpiece
Date made about 1459
Medium and support Oil on oak
Dimensions 57.6 x 20.9 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1860
Inventory number NG1303
Location in Gallery Room 64
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Fragments of Shutters from the St Bertin Altarpiece

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These two paintings – The Soul of Saint Bertin carried up to God and A Choir of Angels – were once the upper parts of the wings of an elaborate altarpiece that was made for the high altar of the abbey church of St Bertin at Saint-Omer in northern France. It was commissioned by Guillaume Fillastre, Abbot of St Bertin, and was consecrated in 1459.

The wings are thought to have been painted at Valenciennes, where Simon Marmion was almost certainly the leading painter; he had moved there from Amiens between 1454 and 1458. The main parts of the wings are now in the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin. On the inside these show Fillastre himself with scenes from the life of Saint Bertin. The central section is known only from written descriptions, but was in the shape of an inverted ‘T’ and was made of gold, gilded silver and copper, rock crystal, diamonds and other precious stones.