BACKER, Jacob de
(b. 1555/60, Antwerpen, d. 1585/90, Antwerpen)

The Last Judgment

c. 1580
Oil on panel, 140 x 105 cm (centre panel), 140 x 52 cm (wings)
O.-L. Vrouwekathedraal, Antwerp

Jacob de Backer was a celebrated specialist of memorial paintings. According to one of his contemporaries, his heavy workload contributed to his own premature death at the age of 30. Antwerp's world-famous printer, Christopher Plantin ordered this painting from Jacob de Backer so that it could be installed in the Antwerp Cathedral as a memorial after his death. This was the custom at the time for leading citizens. We know therefore, that it must have been painted before 1589, the year in which Plantin died. The wings were added later, possibly by another artist in 1591.

Christ appears above the clouds in a radiant light to sit in final judgment over humanity. Groups of saints sit among the clouds on either side of him. On the left we see the Virgin Mary and JOhn the Baptist, while Moses with his stone tablets appears on the right. The symbols of the Evangelists appear at Christ's feet, with three trumpet-playing angels below, and lower still, two angels who enact the sentence of the divine court. One drives the damned souls into hell with his sword, eagerly assisted by the demons that grab at the unfortunate condemned, while the other points the way to heaven. On the surface of the earth, other angels guide the blessed souls to paradise.

Plantin is shown in the left wing, kneeling at a prie-dieu. He is accompanied by his young son, also called Christopher. The boy died young, as is indicated by the little red cross above his head. St Christopher, with the Infant Christ on his shoulders, stands by a wide river with a town on the opposite bank. The other wings shows Jeanne Rivière, Plantin's wife, praying with her six daughters - one of whom also died young. Her patron saint, John the Baptist, stands to the rear of the group.

Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 8 minutes):
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Requiem K 626: Dies irae