MASSYS, Quentin
(b. 1465/66, Leuven, d. 1530, Antwerpen)

St John Altarpiece

Oil on wood, 260 x 504 cm
Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp

Massys is also famous for another triptych, The Entombment, or St John Altarpiece, now in the Antwerp museum. This is an almost oriental fantasy. Some of the figures were probably inspired by the many exotic faces the painter would have seen around him in Antwerp. The central panel depicts the moment at which Joseph of Arimathea comes to ask the Virgin for her permission to bury Christ's body. Behind the central action is the hill of Golgotha, with its few trees, the cross and the crucified thieves.

The right hand panel is a scene of extraordinary cruelty, depicting St John, his body plunged into a cauldron of boiling oil.

The left wing shows Salome offering the head of St John the Baptist to Herod. The whole panel is marked by an extraordinary sense of profane pleasure in such a sumptuous display of rich colours.