BALEN, Hendrick van
(b. 1575, Antwerpen, d. 1632, Antwerpen)

Wings of an Altarpiece

c. 1620
Oil on panel, 270 x 85 cm (each)
O.-L. Vrouwekathedraal, Antwerp

Hendrik van Balen was an Antwerp artist and the teacher of Anthony van Dyck. He mainly painted religious and mythological scenes. He specialized in human figures and was often asked to add staffage to landscapes painted by his colleagues.

The two panels, Virgin and Child with Angels and John the Baptist rebuking King Herod, served originally as the shutters of a triptych. The centre panel, St John Preaching to the Multitude, is no longer in the cathedral.

The left wing shows angels preparing Jesus' bath. One of them is about to take the Infant from his mother's arms, while another carries a basin and a third angel a pair of towels. Other little angels look down from a cloudy sky. The charming scene prefigures the Baptism of Christ by John the Baptist. By using such a familiar scene from everyday life, the artist was able to intensify the spiritual appeal to the ordinary viewer.

The scene in the right wing is much more dramatic. Inside a classical palace, John the Baptist rebukes Herod Antipas, the King of Palestine, for his adulterous marriage to Herodias, who witnesses the confrontation with a lady-in-waiting. The preacher duly paid for his accusations with his life.