(b. 1410/20, Baarle, d. 1475/76, Brugge)
St Eligius in His Workshop1449
Oil on panel, 98 x 85 cm
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
St Eligius, who was born c. 590 in Limousin, notably in the making of reliquaries has become one of the most popular saints of the Christian West. Ancient tradition credits him with extraordinary talent as a goldsmith.
St Eligius in His Workshop remains to this day the best-known and best-loved painting of Petrus Christus. It shows two young fiancés who have brought the patron saint of goldsmiths a quantity of precious metal to be melted down and fashioned into rings as token of their love. Christus gives us an extremely detailed representation of the goldsmith's shop. Not only are there all the instruments of the trade, but also many liturgical objects, carefully arranged on shelves. There is also a convex circular mirror on the right-hand side of St Eligius's table, in an obvious allusion to the Arnolfini Marriage by Jan van Eyk. In it we can see the reflection of a square, with a couple of passers-by.
Although the presence of the saint gives the work a religious dimension, this remains essentially a genre painting: that is, a representation of secular and commercial activities, a scene from everyday life.