Translating the Portinari Altarpiece

In my two pevious posts I mentioned how a painting attributed to two Spanish artists, Bartolomé Berrmejo and Martin Bernat, connected to to the Archbishop section of the St Vincent Panels. I also pointed out that Bermejo featured in the painting known as the Portinari Altarpiece produced by Hugo van der Goes.

The Portinari Altarpiece by Hugo van der Goes (c1475), Uffizi, Florence

It is said that the Portinari Altarpiece is the most studied of all the late 15th century artworks, but I wonder if anyone has ever picked up on the fact that Hugo’s famous painting inspired the panel painting known as King Ferdinand l of Castile welcoming St Dominic of Silos, produced jointly by Bermejo and Bernat? It was contracted for completion in 1479.

Detail from King Ferdinand I welcomes St Domini of Silos, by Bartolomé Bermejo and Martin Bernat (c1479), Museo del Prado, Madrid.

There is a subtle reference in this painting to Van der Goes, depicted as St James (the Greater) the bearded Jew in the left panel of the Portinari Altarpiece. However, the depiction can also be understood as referring to Bartolomé Bermejo.

Van der Goes must have been aware of the similarity between the figures in the two paintings and created another ‘translation’ when he incorporated the St Dominic figures as part the Archbishop section of the St Vincent Panels – at the same tme showing Bermejo without a beard.

Left: Bartolomé Bermejo… Centre: St James, Hugo van der Goes, Bartolomé Bermejo… Right: St James, Hugo van der Goes

Here, for example, is how the shepherd with the protruding teeth was ‘translated’ across the three paintings. Other figures in the Portinari Altarpiece can be matched in the same way.

Detail from (left) the Portinari Altarpiece; (centre) the King Ferdinand I / St Dominic panel and (right) the St Vincent Panels.

The painting of the St Vincent Panels is currently attributed to the Portuguese artist Nuno Gonçalves, but the ‘translation’ of the Portinari Altarpiece in this way is further evidence that the panels were painted by Hugo van der Goes in his attempt to “emulate” or even “translate’ the Ghent Altarpiece produced by the Van Eyck brothers, Jan and Hubert.

Spanish eyes

Here are two more artists that Hugo van der Goes has portrayed in the St Vincent Panels to join the several already mentioned in previous posts. They are both Spanish contemporaries of Hugo who frequently worked together on commissions: Martin Bernat (left) and Bartolomé Bermejo.

So what’s the connection or link between Van der Goes and Bartolomé Bermejo. Seemingly the two painters were known to each other and had met at sometime on their travels.

Bermejo, said to have been from Córdoba in Spain, features in another painting by Hugo van der Goes, the more famous Portinari Altarpiece. He’s depicted as the shepherd showing up as a late arrival for the the Nativity, carrying bagpipes (a blow-in?) and wearing a traditional black, flat-top hat associated with Córdoba and the region of Andalusia.

The figure seen behind Bermejo’s right hand, looking suspiciously at the artist is likely the same person – a priest – depicted adopting a similar stance in the St Dominic of Silos altarpiece. A similar motif is carried through by Van der Goes in the Archbishop section of the St Vincent Panels.

St Vincent Panels… a Spanish link

The back row lineup in the Panel of the Archbishop (with the exception of the figure of the French chronicler Jean Wauquelin) is sourced from two paintings by the Spanish artist Bartolomé Bermejo (c1440 – c1501) and his altarpiece dedicated to St Dominic of Silos:

The central panel shows St Dominic enthroned as a bishop. His likeness is utilised by Van der Goes for the Archbishop in the St Vincent Panels.

The lilkeness of the surrounding prelates can all be matched with the figures featured in Bermejo’s other painting: King Ferdinand I of Castile welcoming St Dominic of Silos.

A second painter, Martin Bernat, was also contracted to assist with this work. He and Bermejo are featured in this wing panel and also the Archbishop section of the St Vincent Panels.

The King Ferdinand panel was contracted to be delivered by May 1479. This date provides an indication that the Panel of the Archbishop was not painted until after then.

My thanks to Pam Bishop for directing me to the likeness of the St Dominic portrait with the Archbishop figure in the St Vincent Panels.

More on this in a future post.