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De Kamper Laatste avondmalen. Het late werk van Mechtelt toe Boecop uit het derde kwart van de zestiende eeuw

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image of Oud Holland - Quarterly for Dutch Art History

Three works can be undisputedly attributed to Mechtelt van Lichtenberg toe Boecop (circa 1520-1598). The Pietà (fig. I), dated 1546, is an example of her Utrecht period. The Adoration of the Shepherds of 1572 (fig. 2) and The Last Supper of 1574 (fig. 3) were painted after she moved to Kampen. In the corners of The Last Supper, a depiction of the institution of the sacrament of the Eucharist, are the arms of her own family and those of her husband, Egbert toe Boecop. Another Last Supper (1560/70) in Kampen (fig. 4), formerly attributed to Mechtelt, shows the announcement of Judas' betrayal of Christ. A painting in the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Lille (fig. 5) bears a close resemblance to the Last Supper with the representation of the Eucharist. Even the colouring is similar. Attribution of this panel to Jacob Maler is based on correspondences with a Last Supper ascribed to him and dated 1552, likewise in Kampen (fig. 6). The most important publication on the Last Suppers in Kampen is by J. L. Siesling (1980), who does not refer to the Lille painting. The absence of a signature and the difference in iconography prompted Siesling to reject Mechtelt as the painter of the 'betrayal' Last Supper (fig. 4). The two pieces differ chiefly in the depiction of the various events of the Last Supper. Siesling sees the fact that Mechtelt opted to depict the institution of the Eucharist (fig. 3) in 1574 instead of the announcement of the betrayal as evidence of a counter-reformational spirit. The religious conflicts of the sixteenth century did after all centre on Eucharistic dogma. According to Catholic doctrine, the consecrated bread and wine were actually converted into Christ's body and blood. The Protestants, however, objected to the sacrifical character of the sacrament and the transubstantiation. They regard the Last Supper as a commemorative meal at which bread and wine have a symbolic function. Mechtelt's choice of the Eucharist, however, is not remarkable in itself. Her fellow-townsman Jacob Maler had already depicted this traditional Kampen theme twice (figs. 5 and 6). Siesling places the unsigned 'betrayal' painting (fig. 4) in the South Netherlandish tradition as far as meaning and design are concerned. He suggests that Mechtelt based her own Last Supper (fig. 3) on the Last Supper formerly ascribed to her (fig. 4). One reason for suggesting Mechtelt's involvement with the latter piece is the presence in it of two portraits. There has been a certain amount of speculation as to the identities of these two men, who are recognizable as contemporaries by their similar ruffled collars. They are thought to be the brothers Egbert and Arent toe Boecop, Mechtelt's husband and brother-in-law. They also occur in a picture of the Four Evangelists painted in 1574 by Mechtelt's daughter, Margaretha toe Boecop (fig. 8). The young man holding a beaker is also portrayed in the signed Last Supper (fig. 3). On stylistic considerations, the Lille Last Supper attributed to Jacob Maler (fig. 5) fits in between his painting of 1552 (fig. 6) and Mechtelt's of 1560/70 (fig. 4). Mechtelt's signed piece (fig. 3) is virtually identical with the Last Supper in Lille (fig. 5). In view of the aformentioned similarity of colouring, she is unlikely to have painted her copy from a print. This is not the first time that a sludy of Mechtelt's paintings has revealed an imitative tendency which seems to have been quite common in the sixteenth century. The Virgin and Christ group in the Pietà, Mechtelt's earliest painting, appears to have been copied from an epitaph in Utrecht which is only known from a small photograph. The Adoration of the Shepherds is an almost perfect copy of a print by Giorgio Ghisi after a painting by Angelo Bronzino, and, as we have seen, there are several versions of the Last Supper. Copying other artists' work, whether from prints or otherwise, was certainly not uncommon, and Mechtelt exemplifies practice in this period.


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