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Le triptyque de la Sainte Famille au travail de Pedralbes, une oeuvre flamande 'hispanisée'

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image of Oud Holland - Journal for Art of the Low Countries

This article focuses on a Flemish triptych dating from 1530-1540; it is kept in the convent of Clares Santa Maria de Pedralbes (Barcelona), and can be attributed to the workshop of Pieter Coeck of Aelst. On the central panel is a representation of the Holy Family at work. In order to depict this less well-known theme the artist resorted to several models: Durer's woodcut from the Marienleben, another woodcut which was printed in the convent of Onze-Lieve-Vrouw ten Troost in Vilvoorde (Brussels) and a composition known to us from a version of the Master of the Antwerp Adoration belonging to the Stedelijk Museum in Delft. Due to its unusual iconographical programme we may assume that the triptych was commissioned by a Spanish Clare. The presence of Saints Clare and Agnes on the left-hand panel and of Saint Francis on the right-hand panel strongly suggests that the work was meant for a convent. Normally, female saints would have been on the right-hand side and Saint Francis on the left, in keeping with the heraldic conventions for males and females on Flemish triptychs. However, the Spanish Clare, who surely had contacts with the painter, wanted a more privileged place for women on 'her' triptych, ad dexteram Christi. In 1540-1560 the triptych, together with three other paintings, was converted into the form of an Iberian retable, which bears the arms of Mother Teresa de Cardona, who had probably commissioned the Flemish triptych. It looks less exotic in its new configuration of a more Spanish character. One might speak of a certain normalization that is not just aesthetic but iconographic too. When the triptych was inserted into the retabló, its wings were exchanged, so that the female saints now stand on the right side of the central panel, a position that is surely more in keeping with the prevailing conventions.


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