NG2790 was by 1600 in the abbey church of St Adrian at Geraardsbergen and it is usually assumed that it was painted for the abbey.75 François Mols, however, writing in the 1780s, claimed that it had come from ‘the effects of David of Burgundy, Bishop of Utrecht, in whose service Jean de Mabuse worked for a long time’, and the author of the ‘Description’ of 1788 stated that it had been ‘carried to Holland, and during the Troubles in the Low Countries, it escaped the Iconoclastes’.76 David of Burgundy was Bishop of Utrecht from 1456 until his death in 1496. It was his half-brother, Philip of Burgundy, bishop between 1517 and 1524, who employed Gossart. These confused reports are clearly unreliable. In 2010, the present writer argued that the ‘Adoration’ was commissioned by Philip’s close associate Daniel van Boechout, Lord of Boelare.77
Little is known about the history of the abbey of St Adrian (fig.7). The buildings were sold in 1797 and afterwards most of them were demolished; the archives have been dispersed or destroyed. The choir and towers of the church seem to have been knocked down in 1799.78 According to Ruteau, writing in 1637, other paintings by Gossart were in the abbey in his time: a ‘Last Judgement’, in the chapel of Saint Natalia (Saint Adrian’s wife); a ‘Crucifixion’, on the ‘autel privilegé’; and other, unspecified paintings.79 The ‘Last Judgement’ was mentioned in an inventory taken in 1791, when it was still on the same altar.80 If these paintings were in truth by Gossart, then it would appear that he was employed at the abbey. It seems very likely that he painted NG2790 for the abbey and that he may have executed other commissions for Geraardsbergen at much the same time.
According to van Waesberghe (1627) and Ruteau (1637), NG2790 came from the ‘chapel of the Virgin’ at St Adrian’s.81 According to Ruteau, Jan de Broedere, abbot from 1504 until 1526, ‘restored the crypt behind the choir and built there a fine chapel dedicated to the Virgin’.82 Historians have taken this statement rather literally and have concluded that de Broedere paid for the building. The chapel, visible in some views and plans of the abbey,83 seems to have been about 13 metres long. The crypt had been the burial place of several abbots, many monks and some noblemen of the district, whose tombs appear to have remained after the crypt was reconstructed as a chapel.84 Jan de Broedere himself was buried there under a plain ‘blue’ stone.85 In the will dated 12 April 1518 of Daniel van Boechout, lord of Boelare near Geraardsbergen, it was recorded that the abbot Jan de Broedere had agreed that Daniel and his wife should be buried in the chapel of the Virgin behind the choir.86 Their tomb was indeed erected there.87 When their daughter died in 1563, she was buried in the abbey church ‘in her father’s chapel’.88 It seems clear that Daniel van Boechout may have contributed towards the cost of the chapel of the Virgin and that it was for a time known as his chapel.
Gossart would appear to have painted the ‘Adoration’ between about 1510 and about 1515.89 By 1508 and until 1524, he was in the service of Philip of Burgundy. Though the exact terms on which Philip employed Gossart are not known, it seems unlikely that Gossart could have worked for other patrons without Philip’s consent. It therefore appears logical to look for connections between Philip and the possible patrons of NG2790, Jan de Broedere and Daniel van Boechout.
Very little is known about Jan de Broedere, alias van Coppenhole, also called Johannes de Cruce.90 He was consecrated at Valenciennes on 25 November 1506. His abbacy was a period of great prosperity and he died in 1526. A missal, sold at Christie’s in 2002, is decorated with his coat of arms and was presumably commissioned by him.91 The miniatures, which are of indifferent quality, hardly substantiate the idea that de Broedere was a discerning patron. There is at least one indication that he had connections with the court of Margaret of Austria. On 9 April 1511 Margaret summoned to Ghent both Jan de Broedere and Jan Clercx, Abbot of Ninove; they were to celebrate divine service on the eve of Palm Sunday (12 April), on Palm Sunday itself, and on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.92 It is possible that, at Margaret's court, de Broedere might have made the acquaintance of Gossart’s patron Philip of Burgundy.
Daniel van Boechout, on the other hand, is relatively well-documented and was closely associated with Philip of Burgundy. Daniel inherited through his father the lordship of Boelare near Geraardsbergen;93 and from his mother the lordship of Beverweerd, about seven miles south-east of Utrecht.94 On 27 July 1487, David of Burgundy certified that, in his presence, Daniel’s widowed mother had made over to Daniel all her landed property.95 At the time of David’s death in 1496, Daniel was his castellan at Ter Horst near Rhenen.96 At an unspecified date, Daniel was one of the chamberlains at the court of Philip the Handsome.97 By 1517, when Philip of Burgundy became Bishop of Utrecht, Daniel was well-established in his favour. When Philip made his ceremonial entry into Utrecht in May 1517, Daniel took a prominent place in his entourage and the town of Utrecht made him generous gifts of wine.98 Philip appointed him to his council; during Philip’s absences from the ‘Nedersticht’ (the area around Utrecht), Daniel was his ‘stadhouder’ or representative there; and he was castellan of Philip’s principal residence at Duurstede.99 Philip died in 1524. Daniel was one of the four executors of his will.100
Daniel may have got to know Philip of Burgundy when both were involved in the civil strife that afflicted Flanders in the early 1490s,101 or afterwards when they were at the court of Philip the Handsome. They must certainly have met when both were in the service of David of Burgundy. Daniel was his castellan at Ter Horst while Philip was his castellan at Duurstede; Philip was asked to protect Ter Horst when it was under threat.102 Gossart was in Philip’s service by the winter of 1508–9, when he accompanied Philip on his embassy to Rome, and, as Gossart seems to have had lodgings in Philip’s residences,103 it is more than likely that Daniel van Boechout had met Gossart in or before1508 and that the two men knew each other well.
Daniel van Boechout, Philip of Burgundy and Gossart appear to have shared a taste for erotic images. Among the items which Daniel had from the estate of Philip of Burgundy were ‘two precious little panels of fornication (‘de boelschap’), well done, with a cover or case (‘custodie’) for one of them’.104 These were two paintings of explicitly erotic subjects; they may very well have been by Gossart. Daniel and his wife, who predeceased him, were buried in ‘a beautiful … tomb in the Italian style’:105 if it was made in Daniel’s lifetime, the tomb gives another indication of his aesthetic tastes. Daniel van Boechout provides the obvious link between Gossart and the abbey at Geraardsbergen and it was probably Daniel who secured the permission of Gossart’s employer Philip of Burgundy to commission him to paint not only the great ‘Adoration’ but also his other paintings which once adorned the abbey church.