The Seven Sacraments
attributed to Rogier van der Weyden
Oil on oak panels, centre panel
204 x 99 cm; side panels: 122.8 x 65.7 cm
Inventory numbers 393-395
The triptych shows how the Seven Sacraments of the Church are taking place simultaneously within the same church. Baptism, Confirmation and Confession are set in the north aisle and its chapels, in the left wing. The Eucharist is at the altar in the nave. Ordination, Marriage and Extreme Unction are set in the south aisle and its chapels, in the right wing. Each Sacrament is presided over by a hovering angel and a gilded scroll inscribed with a pertinent text.
In the centre of the nave the Crucifixion takes place. Below the Cross are figures on the same
scale as Christ: the Holy Virgin, Saint John, the Virgin, and the three Maries. These figures are
huge in scale and the tau-cross is enormously tall, almost filling the nave. The Sacraments
themselves are celebrated by and in front of people who are only a little too large for their
settings. They are in contemporary dress, in the fashions of the 1440s, and most of them seem to be
portraits. The one recognisable portrait is the one of Jean Chevrot, the bishop administering the
Sacrament of Confirmation. The coats of arms in the spandrels are those of Chevrot, on the left,
and the bishopric of Tournai, on the right. A dozen heads were painted on tinfoil and glued to the
panels. It is suggested that these are portraits of persons who were not able to visit van der
Weyden's workshop, but who wanted to see and approve their portraits before they were incorporated
into the triptych. The portrait heads in the triptych presumably represent Chevrot's friends, his
colleagues and members of his family.
The church is viewed through gilded arches, seen from the same angles as the interiors behind. It seems to be freely based on the Saint Michael and Saint Gudula Cathedral in Brussels, perhaps with elements taken from the Cathedral of Tournai.
Seven sacraments, three hands
Three different hands can be distinguished in the execution of the triptych. The centre panel is entirely by van der Weyden, with the exception of the head and hands of the third Mary (the kneeling woman whose body is on the left panel). On the side panels, Rogier painted the angels. In the left panel he painted the scene of the Confession and part of the Confirmation. Most of the other scenes were left to two assistants.