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

The collection of the Saint-Salvator Cathedral

The St. Salvator's Cathedral bears the title of ‘cathedral' since the re-establishment of the diocese in Bruges in 1834. Yet, the house of prayer is still often called the St. Salvator's Church. The St. Salvator's Cathedral in Bruges possesses a very rich and varied artistic patrimony. Certain works of art were made especially for this church. Others came rather by chance to the current St. Salvator's Cathedral. During the French Revolution, a great deal of religious buildings were publicly sold or, if already otherwise not partially, demolished. This was the case with the St. Donaas Cathedral, the Eekhout Abbey, the St. Trudo Abbey and various cloisters (the Augustinian and Domincan, inter alia). Much of the art came to the St. Salvator's Church, the oldest parochial churches in Bruges.

The most valuable objects found shelter in the Treasury of the Cathedral. This Treasury is located in the former capital building: a square locale around an inner garden against the southern side of the Cathedral. In 1912, it was raised to replace an older capital building, with the intention to equip the Catheral's canons of the necessary workspace. The interior was decorated in neo-Gothic style. After WWII, the building lost its proper function. A portion of the Cathedral's collection was brought in.

In the St. Salvator's Cathedral and Treasury's collection there are a dozen paintings of the Southern Low Countries, made during 1400 and circa 1530. One of the major works is the Martyrdom of the Holy Hippolytus of Dieric Bouts and Hugo van der Goes. The triptych has been in the cathedral for a long time. It was probably given by Karel Berthoz, the son of the donor, to the lime porter's guild, but that was later disputed. In any case, the painting was mentioned in the church inventory from the end of the 17th Century (Voyage pittoresque of J. -B. Deschamps). It was found in the church of the lime porters in the south nave, and is then said to be still attributed to Hans Memling.

Two works stand directly in connection with the Brotherhood of Our Blessed Lady of the Seven Woes. The Brotherhood was established in 1493 by the pastor Jan van Coudenberghe under the high protection of Philip the Beautiful.
Mother of Sorrows, attributed to Jan van Eekele, is probably a copy of a work by Quentin Matsys. It is probably here that the panel Jan van Coudenberghe gifted to the abovementioned Brotherhood in 1494.
Also, the Portrait of King Charles, a copy of a lost original by Barend van Orley, is related to this fraternity and originally hung in the chapel of Our Lady of the Seven Woes, in which the eponymous fraternity was situated.

The anonymous Portrait of Charles the Good (gouache on paper), on which the count is presented in a bust profile, is also from the St. Donaas Cathedral. The image is found in the relics' shrine of the count. In 1804, the case with the relics and the portrait came into the possession of the St. Salvator's Church. In 1957, the portrait was taken from the shrine and placed in a new frame.

A number of works was purchased by private individuals and given to the St. Salvator's Cathedral, amongst others an anonymous gift of Calvary with St. Catherine and Barbara. This panel, also known as the Tanner's Panel, is probably from the tanner's guild and was acquired by J. Vermeire in a public auction at the beginning of the 19th Century and was given to the church (J. Gailliard, Ephémémerides, 169).
The anonymous panel Christ on the Cross with Maria and Donor was given to the church by the same J. Vermeire. (Inventory of 1846 (nr. 5) and J. Gailliard, Ephémérides, 162).
The triptych Devotion in the Temple, which is attributed to Adriaen Isenbrandt, was given to the church by the abovementioned J. van Huerne.

The provenance of the other panels is not known. From the Deposition, a copy of a lost work by Rogier van der Weyden, more than 150 copies are known. Several of those are found in Bruges, through which can be taken that the original work was also found in Bruges. These works no doubt were in line with the taste of the many merchants who were present in Bruges. The panels were offered for sale in the Bruges Pandreitje in the 15th and 16th Centuries along with other luxury products such as precious metal works and wall tapestries. A copy probably came to the church in this manner.

Even less known is the provenance of the Crucifixion, Calvary, Lament of Christ by the Master of the Bruges Passion panels.

The two anonymous panels Mary, John and the Holy Women at the Cross and Soldiers at the Cross are side-panels of a lost middle panel. The origin of these works is also not recorded. That is also the case for the anonymous The Legend of St. Anne.

Dirk Desmet