Little and large

This sharp-featured monk is one of twelve figures gathered at the bedside of the Virgin Mary in the famous painting by Hugo Van der Goes, mentioned in yesterday’s post, The Death of of the Virgin.

The figure gripping the headboard represents two people, Thomas the doubting disciple of Jesus, and Thomas á Kempis, who wrote the popular book on Christian meditation, The Imitation of Christ. A description of this scene is at this link.

I also pointed out in my previous post that Rembrandt’s 1439 engraving titled The Death of the Virgin is a work that pays homage to Hugo Van der Goes and includes many figures who feature in Hugo’s paintings.

A famous quote associated with Thomas à Kempis is: “I have sought everywhere for peace, but I have found it not, save in nooks and in books.” – often adapted to a shorter version: “In a little corner with a little book”. This quotation is a key to locating his place and confirming his identity in Hugo’s painting.

Rembrandt linked to this quote in his engraving, but there is nothing little about his version. The ‘little book’ becomes the ‘big book’ placed at the corner of the table in front of the prominent seated figure in the foreground.

But who is this mysterious figure with his back to the viewer? Could there be a connection to the figure opposite, peering across the room through the ‘nook’ in the curtain?