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Jean Bellegambe en zijn Mystiek Bad voor Anchin

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It is not known where Jean Bellegambe, born circa 1470 in Douai, where he probably died in 1535/36, received his training. Artists in this region were exposed to influences from both Flanders and France. Bellegambe's stylistic development falls into two phases: the first (circa 1508 - circa 1 5 2 5) is rather archaistic, drawing on the school of Valenciennes (Marmion et al. and Provost); the second displays the more marked influence of Antwerp mannerism. The triptych discussed here, the Mystical Bath in Lille, made for the monastery at Anchin in view of the arms of the abbey and its abbot, Charles Coguin, on the wings, was only discovered in 1877. Comparison with Bellegambe's principal work, the polyptych The Holy Trinity, and the wings of the Immaculate Conception, both in Douai, has established it as his work. An examination of various published datings leads to the conclusion that this triptych is an example of the artist's second stylistic phase, which began in circa 1525, and was problably painted around that date. The association of the representation of 'Tons Pietatis' with the Office of the Holy Blood was based on the assumpion that the texts on Jean Bellegambe's Mystical Bath (a `Fons Pietatis' with bathing worshippers) derive from the Office ritual in Anchin. The texts however are literal quotations from the bible, the Office of the Holy Blood not being fixed in Bellgambe's day; the Anchin Office merits closer study. The idea that the cult of a relic of the Holy Blood in Anchin abbey may have influenced the iconography of at least the Mystical Bath is not supported by historical facts. Mâle's observation of a relationship between the Holy Blood cult and the representation of the 'Fons Pietatis' is thus reduced to a theologically underpinned assumption. Old and New Testament quotations with reference to the bible passages-not a new phenomenon as such may be connected with the renewed interest for the literal biblical text in the early sixteenth century. This suggests circa 1520 as the earliest date of the triptych. With his female figure of a repentant Mary Magdalene divesting herself of her garments and jewellery, Bellegambe introduces this theme into art. The motif and its combination with the `Fons Pietatis' motif seem to derive from religious drama, notably Jean Michel's Mystère de la Passion, performed in Mons in 1501. Although, in connection with the early sixteenth-century cult of Mary Magdalene, a revived interest in literal bible texts can be observed, it can not be demonstrated in Bellegambe's triptych. The fact that it was dccadcs before the jewellery-removing theme returned to art as an interior scene, may be due to Bellegambe's isolated position. The theological virtues and their attributes derive from a type developed in illuminated manuscripts of literary and philosophical texts, and may also have been inspired by the tableaux vivants enacted in Rouen and Amiens in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century. Coguin's contacts with the 'Clercs Parisiens' in Douai seem to be reflected in these iconographic details of the Mystical Bath. The representation is addressed to both the inmates of the abbey, who according to the rule of the order are speeding towards salvation, and the lay people, who could identify with the pseudo Mary Magdalene on the steps in front of the bath and a few non-clerical male figures. Owing to the lack of archive sources, the precise context of the piece cannot be ascertained.


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