Dieric Bouts: Altarpiece of the Holy Sacrament (1464-1468)

(Saint Peter's Church, Leuven, Belgium)

A masterpiece of the Dutch artist Dieric Bouts (1415-1475). This large altarpiece was commissioned by the "Brotherhood of the Holy Sacrament" of Leuven - a religious group who promoted the worship of the Eucharist. in the 19th century the contract for this painting was found (very rare) and shows that the contract was signed on March 15, 1464. The contract was made between 4 members of the Brotherhood and the artist for a '‘costelike tafele’ (= 'a precious painting' ) on wood. The paper also describes in detail what the artist had to paint and that Bouts was not allowed to work on any other paintings besides this. The Brotherhood stated that the painting 'was to be intended for use in the liturgy and should encourage the Eucharistic devotion'. Two theologians, Johannes Varenacker (?-1475) en Egidius Bailluwel (?-1482), of the University of Leuven were assigned to Bouts to assist him with this painting. Payment was made in several terms, the last on february 9, 1468 when the painting was finished (a receipt is found in which Bouts declared that he had received all the money for this painting). The central panel shows the Last Supper, especially the Eucharist. The scene is set in broad daylight (in the bible it is night) - Christ is the light of the world and all the natural light fades by his presence. The 2 standing men and the 2 who are looking through the hole in the wall are Erasmus van Baussele, Laureys van Wynge, Reynier Stoep and the baker, Stas Roelofs, the 4 members of the Brotherhood of the Holy Sacrament of Leuven who arranged the contract for this painting. The men are portrayed as servants to the supper and as witnesses to the initiation of the Eucharist.

Top left: the meeting of Abraham and Melchisedech (book of Genesis 14: 18-20). Melchisedech, king of Salem and priest of the Highest, offers bread and wine to Abraham near the gates of Salem, after his victory at Kedorlaomer. On the left are 2 men - these are Varenacker and Bailluwel, the advisors of Bouts.

bottom left: the Seder meal of the Jews (Exodus 12: 1-28). A ritual feast that marks the beginning of Pesach

top right: The Gathering of the Manna (Exodus 16: 2-36, Numbers 11: 6-9). This takes place after the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. During the journey through the desert God provided the Manna for the Israelites during their travels in the desert.

Bottom right: Elias and the angel (first book of Kings 19: 1-8). During a long journey the prophet Elias fell asleep under a tree. An angel touches him and tells Elias to wake up and eat. After Elias awakens he finds a jar of water and some bread. Elias drinks and eats and goes back to sleep. The angel comes a second time and tells him to eat and drink because he has a long journey ahead of him. Elias can be seen in the background were he continues his journey.

All 4 smaller painting depict scenes which have a relationship with 'bread'. The idea is that each bread related story explains and foretells the Last Supper and of the Eucharist. Painting from 1464-1468.

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