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Altarpiece of the Guild of the Joiners

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Quinten Metsijs
Leuven 1456/ 1466 - Antwerp 1530
oil on panel
260 x 503 cm
Inventory numbers 245 - 249

In 1503, the Antwerp carpenters' guild commissioned Quinten Metsijs to paint an altarpiece. In addition to the Lamentation of Christ on the central panel, it was to feature the patron saints of the guild - John the Evangelist and John the Baptist - on the side panels. On the left, a dancing Salome serves the head of the latter to her stepfather Herod and her mother Herodias. The actual beheading is represented in the background. On the right panel, John the Evangelist is boiled in a vat of seething oil before Emperor Domitian and his entourage. In the background towers the Roman Porta Latina, an edifice that in this representation bears a similarity to the Steen in Antwerp. In stark contrast to the horrors depicted on the side panels, the central panel is conducive to prayer and contemplation. The dead body of Christ lies in the foreground, close to the viewer, connecting the figures around him. In the background, Metsijs worked out a wonderful landscape with the rock tomb, Golgotha, the three crosses and Jerusalem. The more distant the mountains, the more opaquely they are rendered, entirely in line with the Italian rules of perspective.

Fourth choice

Originally, the guild wanted a sculpted altarpiece. Enquiries were made with two Leuven-based artists and one sculptor from Antwerp, but their designs were deemed too expensive, so that the guild eventually commissioned a painting from Quinten Metsijs, who fulfilled his assignment in sublime fashion.

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