UNKNOWN MASTER, Flemish
(end of 16th century in Antwerp)
Christ, Saviour of Mankind1590s
Alabaster, 57 x 48 cm
Rockox House, Antwerp
The humanists inherited from the Ancients their interest in the beauty of the human body and its depiction in an idealised form. Here, Christ is portrayed naked as if it were the most natural thing in the world. His idealised beauty expresses his perfection in all respects.
In a dramatic gesture, Christ points to the Holy Ghost, symbolised by a dove surrounded by a mandorla or almond-shaped aureole. Christ is supported by the four evangelists, traditionally represented by their symbols: a bull (Luke), a lion (Mark), an eagle (John) and an angel (Matthew). In the middle, the winged archangel Michael, in the helmet and armour of a Roman general, kneels on an orb, which has been one of the attributes of the archangels since early Christian art. With his left hand, Michael restrains the fettered Devil. With his right hand on his heart, Michael declares his readiness to fight against the forces of evil, and an angel hands him his sword for this purpose. Michael's shield prevents Satan from looking upon Christ. At the bottom on the left, Mary Magdalene is depicted in the traditional manner as a repentant sinner. She begs God's mercy for all sinners. In her left hand she bears a lily, a symbol of Virtue.
The iconography of this panel is a superb example of Christian humanism in the Counter-Reformation, strongly influenced by Ancient Greek and Roman depictions of mythologic, themes. The sculpture is of high quality, but the identity of the sculptor has not yet been discovered, nor whose prints he worked from. The late Renaissance influence of Cornelis Floris can, however, be discerned.
The iconography would seem to indicate that the alabaster panel was originally a memorial tablet for a person of some importance.