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Altarpiece with Scenes of the Passion

c. 1535
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

This elaborate altarpiece depicts scenes from Jesus’s life. The Crucifixion in the center is flanked by carvings of scenes from the Passion (the events of Jesus’s final days on Earth) with insets of moments prefiguring Jesus’s suffering. On the predella (base), paintings emphasize the idea of Communion (the ritual of sharing bread and wine in Jesus’s memory). Priests would have stood beneath these scenes when celebrating Mass at the altar.

Antwerp workshops followed a standardized formula for these impressive altarpieces. Using prefabricated components and depicting similar themes meant these altarpieces were not exorbitantly expensive. This one was purchased for the chapel at the château of Pagny in Burgundy in the 1530s. Its gilded figures would have lent a note of brilliant color to the stony chapel. Its origin was largely forgotten until its acquisition by the museum, where it was reunited with the choir screen from the same chapel (1930-1-84a–d).


Object Details
Chapel, Château de Pagny, near Dijon, France; transferred in the mid-nineteenth century by the Duc d'Uzès to Château de Wideville, Seine-et-Oise; Comte [or Marquis] de Galard [1]; "Château de W." sale, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, April 25, 1921, no. 35. George Grey Barnard (1863-1938), New York, probably after 1925 and definitely by 1937 [2]; Barnard Estate, temporarily housed at Barnard's Cloisters, Washington Heights, New York, 1938-1945; sold to PMA, 1945 [3].1. See Paul Court, "Vente du retable de la chapelle du château de Pagny," Mémoires de la commission des antiquités du département de la Côte-d'Or, vol. 17, 1913-21, p. 583. The retable passed into the Galard family through the marriage of the daughter of the Duc d'Uzès, Elisabeth de Crussol, to Louis Marie Hector, Marquis de Galard, in 1865. The 1921 sale catalogue notes that the retable was in the possession of "M. le comte de Galard". 2. After the sale of Barnard's first collection to the Metropolitian Museum of Art in 1925, he formed his second collection, including this altarpiece, between 1925 and his death in 1938. This work is listed in a press release on the collection issued by Barnard in 1937.3. For the provenance see Fiske Kimball, "The George Grey Barnard Collection," PMA Bulletin, vol. 40, no. 205, March 1945, n.p.; David DuBon, "A Note on the Pagny Retable", PMA Bulletin, vol. 56, no. 267, Autumn 1960, p. 39-40, and Peter C. Sutton, Northern European Paintings in the Philadelphia Museum of Art: From the Sixteenth through the Nineteenth Century, Philadelphia, 1990, no. 22, p. 58-64.

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