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De broer van de koning met de dood bedreigd: een 'exemplum iustitiae' in de vijftiende- en zestiende-eeuwse Nederlandse kunst

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

A South Netherlandish panel in the collection of the Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, painted around 1475-85, can be identified as one of the few surviving fifteenth-century justice pictures. Bruyn succeeded in tracing the painting's enigmatic iconography to a mediaeval 'exemplum', The King's Brother Threatened with Death, in which elements from The Sword of Damocles and from the story of the trumpet of death in the legend of Barlaam and Josaphat are combined into a single history. In the Gesta Romanorum, under the heading 'De timore extremi iudicii', the tale is told of a wise and righteous king who threatens to have his frivolous brother executed as a means of demonstrating his own state of mind: the thought of the Last Judgement makes it impossible for him to abandon himself to the pleasures of earthly life. In written sources this 'exemplum' is often associated with 'righteousness', becoming more closely interwoven with the practice of secular justice as time passed. In the fourteenth century, for example, it featured in a moralizing discourse on good and righteous government (the Ludus Scaccorum) and in the fifteenth century as a model of god-fearing conduct - even in a code of law (the Wetboek van Den Briel). This development corresponds closely with the literary history of other judgement scenes, such as the Judgement of Cambyses. The cited literary sources stress that judges should be filled with 'Timor Dei' as exemplified by the story of the king and his brother. The tenor of the 'exemplum' is a reminder that the secular judge will eventually have to answer for his actions to the Supreme Judge, an idea which was conveyed in town halls by representations of the Last Jugement. In view of the written tradition it is quite likely that the panel in Sarasota and two other representations of The King's Brother Threatment with Death - a drawing attributed to Lucas van Leyden and a stained-glass window - served as (designs for) a judgement picture. This interpretation is substantiated by sixteenth-century pictorial sources. In both a South German drawing and a print by Theodoor de Bry the story of the king's brother is combined with a number of familiar 'exempla iustitiae'.


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