Battles and beards

This Portrait of a Carthusian Monk was painted by Petrus Christus in 1446 and is housed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

It was this painting, along with another work by Petrus, that was the inspiration for the bearded Carthusian figure in the Panel of the Friars, the first of six frames that make up the St Vincent Panels.

The long-bearded monk is holding an upright plank of wood – upright as in the sense of righteous (a righteous or just judge). This contrasts to the first figure on the back row, Pontius Pilate, who sentenced Jesus Christ to death by crucifixion after telling the Jews he could find no fault in the man.

It’s not just the beard and white robe that Gonçlaves adopted from the Carthusian painting. The orange, fiery background is echoed in the fiery cross on the monk’s black hat, while the box edge that runs top and right of the frame is represented by the box standing behind Jan van Eyck in the Panel of the Relic.

The plank of wood as representative of the Cross is forefront in another painting by Petrus Christus, A Goldsmith in his Shop, and forms the counter on which various items are displayed. This, too, was incorporated by Nuno Gonçalves into the Panel of the Friars.

A Goldsmith in his Shop, by Petrus Christus. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Researcher Clemente Baeta has identified eleven holes in the plank featured in the Panel of the Friars. The eleven holes match the number of round items grouped on the shop counter, excluding the red ribbon and the mirror. In the Petrus painting they represent the positions of the English forces when it laid seige to Orleans in 1428. The seige was relieved the following year when French forces led by Joan of Arc attacked and overpowered the English positions.

Gonçalves has linked this to reference the siege and conquest of Ceuta by Portugal in 1415 and its successful defence when Moroccan forces counter-attacked in 1419.

Notice also how the right hand of both St Eligius and the monk rest on the panel of wood.

There is another detail in the St Vincent Panels that links to a third painting by Petrus Christus. More about this in a future post.

The St Vincent Panels attributed to the Portuguese painter Nuno Gonçalves.

Several Flemish painters are shown in the St Vincent Panels. The long-bearded monk is meant to represent Roger Campin. Hugo van der Goes shows up in the Panel of the Prince, as does Petrus Christus (see below). Jan van Eyck is the pilgrim featured in the Panel of the Relic, while Dieric Bouts, Rogier van der Weyden and Jaques Daret line up in the Panel of the Knights.

Left: Petrus Christus as portrayed in the St Vincent Panels and (right), probably twenty years earlier, as St Eligius in A Goldsmith in his Shop.

Just Judges… a slanted view

JJ-frame

Ever wondered why the Just Judges panel of the Ghent Altarpiece is so named? Ever asked the question why the ten riders are considered just judges and who they may be? Ever thought that Jan van Eyck was being his usual cryptic self and playing word games – again?

Over the past couple of months I’ve spent time researching the identities of the riders, trying to understand their complex arrangement and how they connect to each other, as well as the various narratives they present and link to. There’s no doubt that Jan van Eyck has mined Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales as well as literary gems by other writers – painters, sculptors and jewellers, too.

So how does the title Just Judges fit into all of this? Is it to be understood in a literal sense? Could Jan van Eyck be making his own judgment in some way that is related to events or people featured in the painting?

A key to understanding the role and identities of the ten riders is to view them as “figures of speech”. In this way the title can be considered simply as a “figure of speech” in an ironic sense and not taken literally.

This would also suggest that Van Eyck is expressing a sense of injustice, that justice was not served correctly.

There’s a clue in the latin title painted on the frame. Compare the upright letter ‘S’ in the word JUST to the same but slanted letter in JUDGES.

Upright, as in righteous… Slant, as to maliciously or dishonestly distort or falsify.

So who is Van Eyck referring to in the painting when he points to injustice? The most obvious person is Joan of Arc, who Jan parallels with the false judgment against Christ and as a lamb led to slaughter.

Joan was condemned to death and burned at the stake on May 30, 1431. The Ghent Altarpiece had its public presentation less than a year later on May 6, 1432. Considering the painting was presented so soon after her execution, Joan’s portrayal as a lamb led to slaughter was a remarkable risk on Jan’s part, especially as the Catholic Church didn’t overturn the trial verdict and pronounce her innocence until 1456.

The slanted ‘S’ also resembles the formation of an open-ended knot. It begs the question: which is its beginning and which is its end, and a conclusion that there is no beginning and no end. It was always this way.

This motif is replicated in the Petrus Christus painting, A Goldsmith in his Shop, as is much of the iconography from the Just Judges. And, as for Van Eyck’s painting, the same question can be asked: Which is the beginning and which is the end of the knot?

It’s not wihout reason that Petrus has placed the red knot emblem on the wood counter. It serves to echo the frame where the knot is placed on the Just Judges panel. Notice also the knot clue next to the ribbon.

More insights on the Just Judges in my next post.

Petrus-knot

images: RKD and The Met, New York

Maid by Jan van Eyck

Two-Joans

There are several pointers to the identity of Joan of Arc as one of the riders in the Just Judges panel of the Ghent Altarpiece.

• Of the ten featured riders Joan is is the only figure with her head uncovered.
• Her hair is cut short. It was cropped in May 1428, at the same time when she was made to dress in men’s clothes to disguise her femininity before journeying to Chinon to meet with the dauphin Charles.
• Her blue mantle is symbolic of heaven and holiness. Other figures in the frame wearing the colour blue also have a religious significance.
• The figure of Joan is fashioned to represent her family’s coat of arms, “Azure, a bow or in fess, thereon three arrows crossed …, on a chief argent a lion passant gules.”

Azure is the blue coat, on which is a bow-or – the gold chain shaped as a bow. The three arrows are the three pointed segments of her collar, the fess. The chief is a charge that runs across the top edge of the shield, in this case the white, argent, fur trim of the blue mantle, while the lion passant gules refers to Joan’s shorn red mane. “En passant” (in passing) is also a pawn capture move in the game of chess and points to Joan’s capture at Compiègne on May 23, 1430. The pawn reference also connects to another figure elsewhere in the painting.

There are more references in the painting that point to Joan. Her inclusion is down to Jan van Eyck and not his brother Hubert who died in 1426, and at least two years before Joan set out on her misssion to have the dauphin Charles crowned as King of France.

So what prompted or inspired Jan to profile Joan in this way so soon after her death? Was he making a point of some kind about her trial conducted by an ecclesiatical court. Is this one of the reasons for the latin title of the panel “Iusti Iudices” (Just Judges), and could it refer to Psalm 94 (The Justice of God), in particular, verse 20-21?

You never consent to that corrupt tribunal
that imposes disorder as law,
that takes the life of the virtuous
and condems the innocent to death.

More details that connect to the identity of Joan of Arc in a future post.

references: history.com and heraldica.org

Disguising Joan of Arc

Goldsmith-in-his-Shop
A Goldsmith in his Shop, Petrus Christus 1449, Robert Lehman Collection, 1975,
on view at The Met Fifth Avenue

So why in 1449 did Petrus Christus choose to ‘disguise’ Joan of Arc and the reference to the siege of Orleans in his painting, A Goldsmith in his Shop, apart from the historical fact that the “Maid” dressed in male attire to conceal her identity?

It wasn’t until seven years later in 1456 and 25 years after being burned at the stake that a posthumous retrial declared Joan innocent of the charges brought against her. Before then, the official line was that Joan was guilty, not only of heresy, but of cross-dressing.

So producing a painting gloryfying the deeds of Joan before her posthumous trial carried risks. Hence the reason for the surreptitious approach taken by Petrus Christus in 1449.

But Petrus was not the first painter to “immortalise” Joan in this way. Jan van Eyck did so shortly after her execution in May, 1431. In fact, just 12 month’s after the Maid was put to death at Rouen, Jan unveiled her image to the public on May 6, 1432.

Joan-of-ArcIt’s unlikely that many who came to admire the Ghent Altarpiece would have recognised Joan in her male attire and featured as one of the riders in the Just Judges panel. She is the hatless figure wearing the blue mantle.

Pterus Christus knew this, as was likely did other contemporaries of Jan. Petrus reworked the Just Judges concept for his Goldsmith presentation. Much of the iconography created by Jan is repeated and adapted for the Petrus painting and explains just why Petrus was inspired to include Joan of Arc in his work. He is paying homage to a predecessor and mentor, Jan van Eyck.

The iconography in the Just Judges panel is heavily woven into several themes and there is a multi-level of identities. Most of the figures represent three different people and each is connected to an identity alongside.

The much researched Quatrain featured on the closed section of the altarpiece is a major clue to unravelling the principal narrative in the Judges panel which links to other panels in the altarpiece.

More to come on this.

Match-making

Ideas-match

Can it be coincidence that the seated figure in the Petrus Christus painting “A Goldsmith in his Shop” (1449) is similar in composition and concept to Jan van Eyck’s Léal Souvenir portrait of Pierre de Bauffremont (1432)?

The inscribed underside of the shop counter and foundation stone share the same theme of a sacrificial altar; the faraway, searching gaze of the two men, both wearing red pleated coats and holding an object in the right hand, is also matched; the hand descending on the shoulder mirrors the descending liripipe of the green chaperon; the  left forearm of both men extends across their chest and the sleeve cuff is fur-lined – but note the fur cuff is absent on the right sleeves!

So is Petrus attempting to link the identity of the man in Van Eyck’s painting, Pierre de Bauffremont, with one of the identies assigned to the goldsmith, apart from St Eligius? Or is he hinting at the possibility that the woman, standing at the goldsmith’s right hand and portrayed as Joan of Arc, may have had some connection to Pierre?

In an article for the British Society for the Turin Shroud and re-published at the Shroud of Turin website, researcher Hugh Duncan has raised the possibility Joan of Arc, as a child, may have visted the Bauffremont castle located a few kilometres from Doremy where Joan was brought up.

Goldsmith-in-his-Shop

A Goldsmith in his Shop by Petrus Christus 1449
Robert Lehman Collection, 1975. On view at The Met Fifth Avenue

Resurrecting Joan of Arc

Finding St Eligius in the Petrus Christus painting, A Goldsmith in his Shop, isn’t difficult; discovering Joan of Arc is more demanding – but she’s there!

There are two areas of the Petrus painting with iconography relating to “The Maid of Orleans”: The counter displaying the goldsmith’s weights alongside the gold coins, and the gold gown worn by the woman to the left of the picture.

Joan of Arc was born in 1412 in Domrémy, Bar, France. A national heroine of France, at age 18 she led the French army to victory over the English forces at Orléans. Captured a year later, Joan was burned at the stake as a heretic by the English and their French collaborators.

More at Resurrecting St Eligius

Siege-of-Orleans