Last Judgement and the seven Acts of Mercy

Bernard van Orley
406 cm x 248 cm x 7 cm
Inventory number: 
Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp
Category B: Southern Low Countries
16th century Last judgements
Religious scenes

Christ sits central in the events on a rainbow, the symbol for the covenant between God and humanity. He judges over the people on the basis of their deeds. The archangel Michael is found amongst them, and weighs their souls on a balance. To the left, the merciful are taken up into paradise, while on the right, the damned are sent to Hell. In the middle of the work, the seventh work of Charity is depicted, namely the burial of the dead. On the left panel, the priests have given drink to the thirsty, a man is received on the stairs with open arms (shelter provided to strangers) and in the background, men are distributing food to the hungry. The right panel shows the clothing of poor beggars, the provision of support and comfort to a sick man and the visits of the prisoners. Above sit Mary and John, each accompanied by six apostles. They must appeal to Christ as a more generous judge for the good works to be commended. On the exterior sides of the panels, Saint Stefanus, Marcus, Laurentius of Rome and Elisabeth of Hungary are portrayed, and are offering clothing and money to the poor. The Antwerp Poorhouse ordered this work in 1518-1519 from Bernard van Orley, court painter of Margaretha of Austria. Six years later, the triptych was placed on the altar of the Poorhouse in Antwerp’s Cathedral of Our Lady. The painting shows the activities of the charitable that they performed.