Vrancke van der Stockt: The Triptych of the Redemption (1450)
(Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain)
A beautiful triptych by the Flemish artist Vrancke van der Stockt (1420-1495, also known as the Master of the Prado Redemption). This altarpiece belonged to Leonor de Mascarenhas (1503-1584), a Portuguese lady who was lady-in-waiting to Empress Isabella of Portugal and later a governess of future king Philip II of Spain and his son Carlos, Prince of Asturias (1545-1568). Leonor de Mascarenhas founded the 'Convento de Santa Maria de Los Ángeles' (convent of Our Lady of the Angels, a monastery for Franciscan nuns) in 1564 and several paintings, including this triptych, were donated to this monastery. To whom the triptych belonged before Leonor de Mascarenhas is unknown. The painting consists of 3 parts:
Left Panel, top side: Genesis, the six days of creation. The order shown is day 1 (separation of light and darkness) is middle left, below is day 2 (creation of the sky to separate the waters below from the waters above), then day 3 (creation of the land, sea and plants). Day 4 (creation of the sun, moon and stars) is middle right, below day 5 (creation of sea and flying creatures) and finally day 6 (creation of land creatures and man - here the creation of Adam is shown). The creation of Eve is in the top right of the left panel. Day 7 of creation (the day God rested) is in the top left of the left panel. Below the bow are also 2 scenes shown - below the left side of the bow is Cain and Abel and below the right side of the bow is Samson and the Lion.
Left Panel, bottom: the archangel Saint Michael expelling Adam and Eve from Paradise.
Central panel, left pillar (top to bottom): the sacraments of initiation - Baptism, Confirmation and The Eucharist
Central panel, band around the central scene (left to right): scenes from the passion of Christ: the Agony in the Garden, the flagellation of Christ, Christ carrying the cross, the deposition of Christ, the Entombment of Christ and finally the resurrection of Christ. In the corners are the symbols of an Eagle (symbol for the evangelist John) and a lion (symbol for the evangelist Mark)
Central Panel: the crucifixion of Christ with the Virgin Mary and Saint John the Apostle. The crucifixion is situated in the a church (perhaps based upon the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula in Brussels) with in the background several details like a canon hearing the confession of a young man, the cloth of Saint Veronica with the image of Christ's face, a man who receives the sacramental bread from a priest etc. These scenes could perhaps be a symbol for the sacrament of Holy Orders.
Central panel, right pillar (top to bottom): the sacrament of Marriage (1 of the 2 sacraments of service) and the sacraments of healing - Reconciliation (Penance) and Anointing of the Sick. The second sacrament of service, Holy Orders, is missing. I think that perhaps the church in the central panel is a symbol for that one.
Right Panel, top side: the 7 acts of Mercy. From left to right are - clothing the naked, giving drinks to the thirsty, feeding the hungry, shelter the Homeless, visiting the imprisoned and visiting the sick. The last act of mercy (burying the dead) is shown in the left and right top corner of the right panel. Below the bow are again two images - the angel (symbol of the evangelist Matthew) and a bull (symbol of the evangelist Luke).
Right Panel, Bottom: The Last Judgment with Christ in Majesty. The right hand of Jesus is raised in the act of blessing the dead who are to be admitted to the Kingdom of Heaven, his left hand is lowered as he condemns the sinners to eternal punishment. Sitting under Jesus are the virgin Mary and Saint John the Apostle. Below the group are people rising up from their grave. One group is led by and angel to the Kingdom of Heaven while the others are going to hell
The theme for the entire painting the Redemption of Mankind and it shows the entire road. Reading from left to right, as is standard for these paintings, the road shown is: Genesis -> the Original sin (expelling of Adam and Eve from paradise - the breaking of the bond between God and Man. Mankind is punished by God with the introduction of death) -> the passion of Christ (as in the old Testament people would sacrifice a lamb to ask for forgiveness, so sacrificed Jesus ('Lamb of God') himself to ask for forgiveness for the sins of Mankind. With the death and resurrection of Jesus he himself had conquered the punishment, death and with that the reconciliation of god and Mankind) -> the 7 sacraments (initiation of God into your life) -> the 7 acts of Mercy (helping the needs of others) -> The Last Judgment (Redemption). Painting from 1450.