Master of the Spes Nostra: Commemorative panel (1500)

(Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands)

A painting by the unknown Dutch artist 'Master of the Spes Nostra' (active around 1500). This painting is a commemorative panel for the 4 men in the foreground. These men are canons regular of the Augustinian order - priests who had sworn the monastic oaths and lived as a community following the rule of Saint Augustine. The group is in a 'Hortus Conclusus' (an enclosed garden) and is gathered around a half-open grave with a semi-decomposed body (the crossed bands on the skeleton’s chest shows that this is the body of a priest). On the left are 2 canons with Saint Jerome of Stridon (in his characteristic cardinal’s robes and with a lion), on the right 2 other canons with Saint Augustine of Hippo who is holding a heart. The 2 ladies in the middle are the pregnant virgin Mary who is greeted by Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist. In the background is a group of angels playing music while 2 other angels are watching over the child Christ who is playing with a hobbyhorse. The peacocks in the garden are a symbol for eternal life. On the tombstone is the text "Requiescant . in . pace" (= 'May they rest in peace'). Below the grave is the text "Si . quis . eris . qui . transieris . hoc . respice . plora / Sum . quod . eris . quod . es . ipse . fui . pro . me . precor . ora" (= 'Whosoever passeth by, behold and lament; I am what thou shall be, what thou art I have been; pray for me, I beseech thee’). As a whole the painting was probably intended as an epitaph and placed near a tomb - visitors were encouraged to meditate on his or her own mortality. Who this painting commissioned is not known but as the canons are from the Augustinian order it probably came from one of the 15 Augustinian Priories in the County of Holland. Painting from around 1500.