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Een altaarstuk voor parochianen en pelgrims in Heiloo

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image of Oud Holland - Quarterly for Dutch Art History

The Roman Catholic Parish of Heiloo, a village near Alkmaar, possesses a painting dated 1631 combining three scenes. The top part shows St. Dominic and St. Catherine of Siena receiving the Rosary from Mary and the Christ child (fig. 1). This occurrence takes place on what seems to be the roof of a gallery, under which the two other scenes are located. To the right St. Dominic is seen performing a miracle: while in Toulouse, the heretic Albigenses challenged him to throw his writings in the fire, but they bounced back unscathed three times, causing the Albigenses to repent. A print by Theodoor Galle (fig. 2) was the basis for the composition. At the left St. Willibrord, who converted large parts of the Netherlands to Christianity in the eight century and became the first bishop of Utrecht, is shown praying next to a well in Heiloo, his followers standing by. The well as it looked in 1631 and the medieval church that still stands in the center of the village (fig. 5) are both portrayed in this scene.The painting was most probably commissioned as an altarpiece for a clandestine catholic church not far from the place where it is currently kept. In the first decades of the seventeenth century Heiloo was administered by Dominican missionaries, which explains the prominence of Dominican saints in two of the three scenes. The most prominent Dominican priest was Hyacintus Hermanni (fig. 6), a native of Alkmaar, who is here identified as the patron for this altarpiece. It is not signed, but there are strong similarities with the style of Alkmaar's leading figure painter at the time, Nicolaes van der Heck (fig. 8). Hermanni's portrait can be found to the right of the pillar dividing the two scenes, looking at the viewer and wearing liturgical clothing.The 'Well of Willibrord' had been a destination for pilgrims since late Medieval times, and on closer inspection the theme of pilgrimage pervades the whole painting. One of the followers of St. Willibrord was St. Adalbert (fig. 11), who was buried in the neighbouring village of Egmond, close to the famous Egmond Abbey. According to the legend he was a deacon and in the picture he is identifiable by the colourful cope he is wearing – the rest of Willibrord's followers are characterized as Benedictine monks. Behind Adalbert a heavenly ray of light is seen, going in the direction of a building on the horizon which, by its silhouette, can be recognized as Egmond Abbey, partly destroyed by the sea beggars in 1573 (figs. 9, 10). This building and the nearby well which had formed at Adalberts grave were also visited by pilgrims from all over the Republic.An even greater attraction for pilgrims coming to Heiloo was the site known as Our Lady of Solace (Onze Lieve Vrouw ter Nood) in the hamlet of Oesdom. It consisted of the ruins of a chapel that used to house a miraculous statue of Mary. The chapel had been partially torn down by the protestants in 1573 and the miraculous statue disappeared as well, but these misfortunes made the place only more holy to the catholics living in the protestant country. There were also new miracles: in a picture of a family on pilgrimage from 1630 an apparition of the Virgin is vaguely indicated in the walls of the ruin, in a pose reminiscent of the apparition of the Virgin in our altarpiece (figs. 12, 13). It was not only in this painting that the three abovementioned sites were united – a printed map dated 1704, entitled 'Hyloo-er ryskaartje' ('Heiloo travel map') was specifically produced to show pilgrims the way to the sanctuaries of Willibrord, Adalbert and Mary (fig. 15).The complicated iconography of this altarpiece can thus be explained as an attempt by the dominican friars administering the Heiloo parish, to merge the specific devotions of their order with local devotions connected to nearby pilgrimage sites. The pilgrimage theme is reinforced by the relief figure of a pilgrim above the central column (fig. 17).


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