This archived website 'Flemish primitives' is temporarily not being updated. Certain functionality (e.g. specific searches in the collection) may no longer be available. News updates about the Flemish primitives will appear on Questions about this website? Please contact us at

Triptych of Saint Erasmus

Dieric Bouts
806 m x 815 m
Inventory number: 
Museum M Leuven
Category A: Flemish primitives
15th century Saints

The patron of this work is possibly Gerard de Smet (+ 1469), master of the collegiate school and member of the Brotherhood of the Holy Sacrament. The work was definitely in the possession of the brotherhood after 1475.

On the middle panel the martyring of Saint Erasmus, bishop of Antioch (+303) is depicted. He lays stretched out on the martyr board, with his head turned to the left. His feet are bound together and his hands are secured near his body on the plank. He is only wearing a white loincloth. His black garment lies folded up under his head. On the ground to the left, stands his bishop’s miter. At the head and foot of the torture bed, two executioners man the wheel axe, by which the intestines of the martyr are extracted from his body. Central on the middle panel, a judge stands observing the faces. Behind him stand three men who each look in a different direction. The man on the left has turned himself a quarter turn away from the events. The tableau is situated in a vast landscape, flanked on the left and right by rocky outcrops.

On the left panel, Saint Hieronymus is portrayed as a Cardinal. He wears the red Cardinal’s vestments and red hat. He holds a book and a cross staff and at his feet sits the lion, his usual companion. According to the legend, he freed the lion of a thorn in his paw, when he still lived as a hermit in Antioch. The landscape in which he stands is extended from that of the middle panel. He looks on as Erasmus is martyred.

On the right panel, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux is depicted, clothed in a white Cistercian habit with a black scapular over it and a black cap. On his head he wears a red head covering. He holds onto a book in his left hand and a bishop’s staff in the right. At his feet lies a subdued devil in chains, an indication towards his triumph over temptation. Also on this panel the landscape from the middle panel runs through and the saint looks on at the martyring of Erasmus.