Altarpiece with Scenes of the Passion

Artist/maker unknown, Flemish. Paintings attributed to a follower of Pieter Coecke van Aelst, Netherlandish (active Antwerp), 1502 - 1550. Sculpture attributed to the workshop of Master of the Oplinter Altarpiece, Flemish.

Made in Antwerp, Southern Netherlands (modern Belgium), Europe

c. 1535

Gilded and painted wood sculptures; tempera-painted panels

Height: 9 feet 8 inches (294.6 cm) Width (Wings open): 14 feet (426.7 cm) Width (Wings closed): 7 feet 6 inches (228.6 cm)

Curatorial Department:
European Decorative Arts and Sculpture

* Gallery 255, European Art 1500-1850, second floor

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
Purchased with Museum funds from the George Grey Barnard Collection, 1945

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This elaborate altarpiece depicts scenes from Jesus' life and from the Passion, the events of his final days on earth. The altarpiece is shown here with its hinged panels open, as they would have been on major religious holidays. On either side of the Crucifixion in the center are carvings of scenes from the Passion with insets of earlier events prefiguring Jesus' suffering. On the base, or predella, paintings emphasize the idea of communion (the ritual of sharing bread and wine in Jesus' memory): a scene from the Last Supper is flanked by two related Old Testament subjects. Priests would have stood directly beneath these scenes when celebrating Mass at the altar.

Additional information:
  • PublicationPhiladelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections

    This altarpiece was acquired for the high altar of the chapel at the château of Pagny during the redecoration projects of Admiral Chabot and the cardinal of Givry in the 1530s. After being removed from the chapel, its origin was forgotten until the altarpiece was reidentified in this Museum and, miraculously, rejoined with the Pagny choir screen. Such altarpieces were a specialty of Antwerp craftsmen who produced them for a widespread European market. Surprisingly, such elaborate and impressive works were not exorbitantly expensive, partly because they were made from prefabricated components and treated standardized themes such as the Passion of Christ, seen here. This example belongs to a group by an anonymous artist sometimes called the Master of the Oplinter Altar. While distinct from the Italianate and local styles found in other works at Pagny, the altarpiece, with its detailed, fully modeled, gilded figures, follows a taste for Northern art that was well established in Burgundy, which had historic links to the southern Netherlands. The paintings strike a contemporary note, echoing the then enormously influential style of Pieter Cocke (1502-1550), and would have lent a note of brilliant color to the stone chapel. Dean Walker, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections (1995), p. 125.

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