Masterpieces | Earthly & Spiritual Matters
An extraordinary history
Acquired in 2009, this work, which comes from one of the largest collections in Ghent, pays significant artistic witness to Flemish art. The epitaph, forming an integral part of the composition, enables us to identify the figure kneeling down as the donor Joos vanden Damme and, what is even more rare, to find out where the work was originally hung. The donor, who died on 4th May 1484, had commissioned this painting to have alongside him in his final resting place – the side chapel of Notre-Dame Church in Dendermonde.
In addition to where it comes from, this work is exceptional insofar as the donor has been painted with his eyes closed, i.e. dead, which was quite unconventional at the time. The composition is also original: instead of being placed in the middle as was the norm, the Virgin takes up the entire right-hand side. Seated under a canopy, she is surrounded by praying and musical angels. Kneeling down with his hands clasped, the canon is slightly below the Virgin. He is being introduced by Saint Barbara who, stood by his side, seems to be protecting him. Admittedly, there are some known examples, but it is fairly uncommon for donors to have the privilege of appearing in the same panel as the Virgin: they are usually depicted on side panels.