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Altarpiece of the Guild of the Joiners

Quinten Massijs
503 cm x 260 cm x 1 cm
Inventory number: 
Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp
Category A: Flemish primitives
16th century Christs Old Testaments Pietas Saints
Religious scenes

In 1479, the joiners disassociated themselves from the coopers and established their own guild. They ordered an altarpiece for their chapel, a Lamentation of Christ. Originally the intention was to erect a sculpture, but since the realisation of this fell through, the commission was given to Quinten Massijs. Perhaps it is for that reason that the figures worked out on the side panels still make one think of sculptured tableaux. Here, the martyred deaths of the patron saints of the joiners are rendered, that of John the Baptist and John the Evangelist.
Up front in the middle panel, the dead body of Christ lays, close to the viewer. The saintly John, Mary and Christ constitute the middle point of the tableau, with the colours of red, blue and white. The landscape in the background is formed by the opened grave, Golgotha, Jerusalem and in the distance some mountains. They likewise correspond to the figures represented.

On the left panel, Salomé serves the head of John the Baptist on a platter to her uncle and stepfather Herod and to her mother Herodias. In the background, the beheading itself is rendered. The banquet is reminiscent of a festive meal of the highest standards from around 1500: courses are transitioned by song and dance and various spectacular performances, such as that of Salomé. The page is busy filling the chalices of wine. The wine pourers are inspired by Albrecht Dürer. On the right panel, John the Evangelist is being cooked in a kettle of boiling oil, which seems to not be harming him. Emperor Domitian looks on along with his senators and his entourage. They have a caricature and eastern appearance: the bad one is presented as ugly and strange. The background is formed by the Roman Porta Latina, strongly inspired by the Antwerp Steen with the imperial eagle of the Holy Roman Empire. The heads of the executioners are borrowed from Leonardo da Vinci.