In 1994, Truus van Bueren started an investigation into ‘Care for the here and the hereafter: Commemorative representations in the (arch)bishopric of Utrecht in the late Middle Ages’. The exhibition and catalogue gave her the opportunity to make an interim report on her findings. The project involves making detailed studies of all the surviving objects in the category, in all media, and references to such objects in early written sources. Wisely avoiding narrow definitions, van Bueren concentrates on paintings produced in the diocese of Utrecht, which approximates to that area of the Low Countries north of the rivers Rhine and Meuse. Her investigations end in about 1630, after which such objects were no longer produced in that region. The memorials are subdivided into five broad, and occasionally overlapping, types: epitaphs; family pieces, where all the members of one family are shown at prayer; confraternity pieces, where several members of one association, including societies of Jerusalem pilgrims, are shown performing devotional acts; portrait series (for example the Counts of Holland now in the Town Hall at Haarlem, the Commanders of the Convent of the Order of St. John at Haarlem (No. 95, lent from the Frans Halsmuseum) and the Commanders of the House of the Teutonic Order at Utrecht, still in the possession of the Order); and pieces commemorating specific gifts and deeds of piety, for example foundations of almshouses or orphanages.
The book is divided into two sections. The first, 128 pages long, comprises introductory essays: on the here and the hereafter; on the diversity of measures taken to ensure welfare in the hereafter; on death, burial and care for the good of the soul; on the functions of the memorials; on form and image; and on the manufacture, practical uses and fates of memorials. The second section, 136 pages long, is the exhibition catalogue, comprising 105 entries under four headings: the Four Last Things; earning admission to the Heavenly Kingdom; death, burial and memorial services; and memorials and other works of art with portraits of people at prayer. Over half the exhibits were manuscripts, early printed books or historical documents; thirty were pictures. Thirty-four of the exhibits came from the Catharijneconvent, twelve from foreign collections. The outstanding paintings were theFour Canons Regular at an Open Grave by the Master of the Spes Nostra, from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam (70); the triptych by Mostaert from Bonn (80); and the two triptychs by the Master of Delft from Aachen (83, the centre panel being from the workshop of the Master of Frankfurt) and the Catharijne-convent (88). Outclassing the pictures were the best of the manuscripts, which included the Hours of Jan van Amerongen, from the Bibliothèque Royale in Brussels (16); the Hours of Philip the Good, with miniatures by Jean Le Tavernier, from the Royal Library in The Hague (56); and a Book of Hours with miniatures attributed to Gerard Horenbout from the Vatican Library, MS Vat. Lat. 3768 (59).
Though only four of the exhibits were previously unpublished (30, 57, 61, 87), many of the works of art reproduced in the catalogue have been reproduced only in obscure journals and are unlikely to have come to the notice of foreign art-historians. Simon Jansz. van Polanen, advocate at the Court of Holland, died in 1503. He had six wives and thirty-three children, all represented with him in a memorial picture known from a seventeenth-century(?) copy recording only the portrait groups (private collection, Netherlands: p. 74, Fig. 62). A Mass of St. Gregory (Jacobikerk, Utrecht), with portraits of a couple, their two sons and six daughters and four patron saints, was painted towards the end of the fifteenth century, perhaps in 1492-93. In the sixteenth century, it was overpainted with an inscription from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Hebrews (XII: 14-24). The original composition is made partially visible in infra-red photographs and infra-red reflectograms (pp. 112-13, Figs 100-102).
The book includes a bibliography, indices of names of persons and places and a third index (Register 3, tucked away on pp. 273-79) where there are listed works of art mentioned in the text but not included in the exhibition. This list, easily overlooked, is an indispensable source of essential information on the text illustrations, few of which have detailed captions.
Perhaps because parts of the book were written in a hurry, there are one or two problems. Some of the paintings discussed are not adequately described. Many readers will find it difficult to follow the discussion on p. 75 of Mostaert’s triptych of the Descent from the Cross(Brussels) or the catalogue entry on pp. 263-64 for the painting of the maternal ancestors of Gerrit Pietersz. Schaap (105, lent from the Amsterdams Historisch Museum), where the two portraits copied in the top right corner are not mentioned. In the discussions of the Virgin and Child with Boudewijn van Zwieten and his Family (90, lent from the Leiden Museum), Boudewijn’s three sons, correctly listed on p. 38, become four on p. 238; his great-grand-daughter Johanna van Zwieten, who ‘renewed’ the picture, is said on p. 240 to have died between 1552 and 1556 and on p. 239 to have died on 20 September 1554. The collars worn by several of the persons represented are those of St. Anthony, an order founded by the Counts of Hainault and Holland at Saint-Antoine-en-Barbefosse in Hainault. It should be possible to say more about the appearance of the missing original, which seems to have been painted between 1454 and 1456 and which must have differed in several important respects from the copy made for Johanna van Zwieten. It would be interesting to compare this picture with the approximately contemporary Brussels painting of the Virgin and Child with Wouter van der Noot and his Family, known from several copies.
Van Bueren is perhaps a little too nervous about expressing opinions on questions of condition, attribution and chronology. If the memorials of Bartout van Assendelft (died 1478; Rijksmuseum) and Peter van de Vecht (died 1573; Catharijneconvent), illustrated on pp. 93 and 94, are not later copies, they must have been very thoroughly overpainted. The brass memorial to Hendrik van Elverick and his wife Ida Greve (died 1456 and 1446 respectively; Roman Catholic Church, Zevenaar), reproduced on p. 91, would have been produced several decades after their deaths, which very probably explains why their portraits were not included.
Some of van Bueren’s generalisations are open to question, especially when she makes comparisons between the Utrecht memorials and those from the pre-1559 dioceses of Liège, Cambrai and Tournai. Discussing the conventions according to which donor portraits were positioned, she states on p. 91 that, if only one donor was included in a single painting or a triptych, a North Netherlander would be shown in the ‘most modest’ place, on our right of the main subject; whereas a South Netherlander would normally appear in a more prominent position, on our left of the main subject. This is very dubious indeed. Jan Willem Jansz., who was Commander of the Haarlem convent of the Order of St. John and who died in 1514, kneels on the left of aVisitation (Weimar; p. 98, Fig. 85); in the Master of Delft’s triptych of the Crucifixion in the National Gallery, London, the Premonstratensian donor kneels in the lower left corner of the centre panel. Compare also the miniature in the Hours of Beatrijs van Assendelft (94, reproduced on p. 244), where Beatrijs kneels on our left of St. Augustine. In the southern bishoprics, and indeed in France and the duchy of Burgundy, donors kneeling on our right of the main subject are found in pictures by Jean de Beaumetz, at least one follower of the Master of Flémalle, Jan van Eyck, Rogier van der Weyden, Dirk Bouts, Fouquet, at least two followers of Van der Goes, Memling, the Master of Moulins, a follower of Bosch and the Master of the Antwerp Adoration. This list, compiled from memory, could be greatly extended. Many of van Bueren’s generalisations on South Netherlandish art should be treated with caution. Only when we have as careful and methodical a survey as hers for production in the bishoprics of Liège, Cambrai, Tournai, Arras and Thèrouanne will it become possible to generalise about any possible distinctions between conventions in Utrecht and elsewhere in the Low Countries.
The catalogue includes so much valuable factual information that it is difficult to single out the most important contributions. Peter Klein has established that the Virgin and Child with Four Members of the Van Montfoort Family (85, lent from the Rijksmuseum) cannot have been painted before 1365 (p. 232); the implication is that it is indeed a (much damaged) fourteenth-century picture and not a later copy. The entry for St. Agnes with Geertui Haak (93, also from the Rijksmuseum) gives detailed information on the donatrix: the biographies previously published all seem to be very inaccurate. In the entry for the nineteenth-century drawing after a lost triptych of the Last Judgement(79, lent from the Rijksprentenkabinet), the couple in the left wing are identified as Jan IJsbrandsz. van Schoten (1437-71) and his wife Sophie(?) van Adrichem. The couple on the right wing are their son Gerrit van Schoten, who died in 1513, and his wife Ludgard van Zwieten, who survived until 1545. Ludgard’s clothes are claimed to be in the fashion of around or after 1520. The lost original can no longer be claimed to have been the work of Geertgen. Van Bueren worries unduly that Jacob van Schoten’s feet are on his wife’s skirt: after all, Van der Goes shows St. Thomas standing on Tommaso Portinari’s robe and St. George trampling, in armoured feet, upon the skirt of Margaret of Denmark, Queen of Scots.
This is an admirable book which will interest a great many people from different fields, which makes accessible several important but neglected works of art and which gives significant indications for new directions in research. It is elegantly produced and beautifully illustrated.
The National Gallery, London