Redemption Triptych: The CrucifixionCa. 1450. Oil on panel, 195 x 172 cm.
The triptych belonged to Leonor de Mascarenhas (1503-1584), a Portuguese lady who moved to Spain in 1526 and was aya to Philip II and afterwards to his son Don Carlos. When in 1564 she founded the convent of Franciscan nuns dedicated to Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles in Madrid she gave several paintings including the Redemption. Nothing is known about its earlier history.
The centre panel shows the crucified Christ between the Virgin and Saint John. Behind is a church, parts of which are thought to be based on the Collegiate Church of Saint Gudula, now the Cathedral in Brussels. Between the Virgin and Christ, a canon hears the confession of a young man. Above them, hanging from the pillars, are boards with a prayer, apparently to the Virgin, and an image of Saint Veronica with the Holy Face. On the screen separating the nave from the choir are polychromed statues of the Four Fathers of the Church. At the altar on the left of the screen, directly behind the Cross, the Sacrament of the Eucharist is celebrated: a priest, holding a ciborium in his left hand, is putting a Communion wafer into the mouth of a young man. Above the priest is a very large statue of Saint John the Baptist. In the central arch, a deacon reads at a lectern; above him, on the gable of the sacrament tabernacle, is an image of the Agony in the Garden.
In the arch on the right, the Host is being elevated by a priest, attended by a kneeling acolyte carrying a long taper wound around a stick. On top of the altarpiece is a tower retable enclosing an image of the Virgin and Child. Few of the subjects of the stained glass windows can be identified. Immediately above Christ`s head is the Sacrifice of Isaac; in the central window, above Christ`s left hand, is the Annunciation.
The Cross is wedged into the floor, from which a tile has been removed. Christ`s loincloth is one of the Virgin`s veils and the blood from the wound in his side is catching in its folds and staining its fabric. Though he is dead, his eyes are slightly open. His mouth, too, is open, to reveal his top teeth. The lettering on the placard of the Cross seems to represent YNRY, for Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum. The Virgin and Saint John are weeping copiously. In the framing arch are scenes from the Passion of Christ: the Agony in the Garden; the Flagellation; the Carrying of the Cross; the Descent from the Cross; the Entombment; the Resurrection.
In the spandrels are an eagle and a lion, the symbols of the Evangelists John and Mark. In the two towers are the remaining six of the Seven Sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation and Ordination on the left; Marriage, Confession and Extreme Unction on the right. In the left wing is the Expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden . In the framing arch are the Six Days of Creation; in the spandrels, God resting and God creating Eve. On the corbels supporting the arch are Cain and Abel and Samson and the Lion. In the right wing is the Last Judgement with, in the arch and spandrels, the Seven Works of Mercy. Christ is present in each of the seven scenes (Matthew 25:35-40). On the corbels are an angel and a bull, the symbols of the Evangelists Matthew and Luke. On the reverses of the wings is represented in monochrome the Tribute Money (Matthew 22:17-20). On the left is Christ, with one of his disciples; on the right are the disciples of the Pharisees and the Herodians (Matthew, Mark 12:13) or spies sent by the chief priests and scribes (Luke 20:20). The inscriptions record in Latin extracts from Saint Matthew`s Gospel: the question put to Christ, on the right; and his reply, on the left.
Infrared reflectograms reveal numerous changes in the architecture and in the figures. Only a few can be mentioned here. In the underdrawing, the Virgin`s head is inclined towards Christ. Her right eye is underdrawn between her painted left eye and her veil; the end of her nose is underdrawn between the corner of her painted mouth and the contour of her painted face. Saint John`s face is underdrawn slightly above and to our left of the painted face but is seen from much the same angle. His right hand is underdrawn palm outwards above and on our left of his painted left hand. He is taller in the underdrawing and his feet are wider apart. In the Entombment, a woman, presumably the Magdalen, is underdrawn kneeling in front of the tomb. She has been removed: if she had been painted, she would have obscured the corpse of Christ, now visible within the tomb. The Crown of Thorns fills part of the gap left when she was removed.
Basing his composition on the Seven Sacraments (Amberes, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, inv. 393, 394, 395), the Master has referred to many other pictures by Van der Weyden: the crucified Christ resembles the Christ of the Vienna Crucifixion, while the underdrawn Virgin and Saint John are very like their counterparts in the Escorial Crucifixion. They seem, however, to have paraphrased the figures from an earlier, lost Crucifixion by Rogier. Several of the figures in the right wing have been taken from the Beaune Last Judgement.
Many of the architectural details, including the canopies and pinnacles in the framing towers and arches, are very like the corresponding details in the Miraflores Triptych (Berlín, Staatliche Museen, Gemäldegalerie, inv. núm. 534a). The tracery in the centre panel and in the wings, however, is closer to that in the Prado Descent from the Cross (P2825).
In the framing arch, the Flagellation and the Christ carrying the Cross are similar to two drawings, both in the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam; the second is one of several drawings marked with the letter R.7 The representations of the Seven Sacraments are similar to those in the triptych of the Seven Sacraments but are very much closer to drawings (Oxford, Ashmolean; Paris, Louvre) and the related embroideries from a cope at the Historisches Museum in Bern with the coat of arms borne before 1478 by James of Savoy (1450-1486), Count of Romont.
The clothes of the fashionably dressed figures allow the four sets of Sacraments to be approximately dated. The triptychs of the Seven Sacraments and the Redemption are close in date; but the drawings and the embroideries are later. The men`s skirts are shorter; their shoulders are wider; their hair is longer; the women`s necklines are more revealing; their belts are wider; and their headdresses are slightly more extravagant. The first two series are perhaps of about 1450, while the second two may be placed around 1460. It is possible that Rogier made and discarded studies for the triptych of the Seven Sacraments and that the painter of the Redemption, the draughtsman and the embroiderer had access to and followed the discarded designs, updated by the draughtsman and the embroiderer. If, as seems plausible, the Redemption is to be dated around 1450, the painter must have had privileged access to Rogier`s archive of sketches, including the unused studies for the Seven Sacraments and the ideas for the figures of the Virgin and Saint John the Evangelist that Rogier was to bring to final perfection in the Escorial Crucifixion.
Though obviously familiar with Rogier and his work, the Master of the Redemption differed dramatically from Van der Weyden in his attitudes to idealisation and to composition. In modifying the ways in which the framing arches are used, he has departed radically from Rogier`s ideas on the relationships between sculpture and painting, between grisaille and polychromy. He is perhaps at his most spontaneous and idiosyncratic in the Temptation in the background of the left wing. Adam, the serpent and Eve are painted without reserves. They are attenuated and elongated, with contours simplified into near vertical straight lines. The Master liked to elongate his figures, which have often grown to heights of eight heads or more. Faces seen in three-quarters view or in profile usually have fairly short noses, though men seen from the front may have long noses. Figures are frequently cramped within their fields and many are cut off awkwardly, while others project beyond the boundaries of their enclosures into areas where different conventions of scale prevail. The Master likes long, straight contour lines that tend towards the vertical. This can make their attitudes look stiff, their movements awkward. He has very little sense of linear rhythm and, unlike Rogier, he does not favour parallel diagonals. Less interested than Van der Weyden in beautiful shapes, he does not care about the intervals between shapes. He crowds the elongated forms, which are etiolated rather than elegant, neglects vital angles and intervals and so loses the clarity and conviction of Rogier`s original ideas.
The Master of the Prado Redemption, named after this triptych, may have worked for a while in Rogier`s studio; he was a close associate and follower, rather than an imitator, and evolved a distinctive, independent and idiosyncratic style. His identification as Vrancke van der Stockt (before 1420-1495) seems unlikely (Campbell, L.; Pérez Preciado, J. J. en: Rogier van der Weyden, Museo Nacional del Prado, 2015, pp. 120-127).