MASTER of Flémalle
(b. ca. 1375, Valenciennes, d. 1444, Tournai)
Oil on wood
Courtauld Gallery, London
The Triptych is named after its present owner, the Count of Seilern. It is considered to be the earliest of the Master's works to have survived to the present day.
The central panel represents the Entombment: the Virgin, Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus and another Mary are holding Christ's body spread out on its shroud above the tomb. The other figures in the scene function as so many allusions to different stages in the Passion cycle: St John, on whom the Virgin leans, refers us to the Lamentation; Mary Magdalene rubbing oil into Christ's feet is a reminder of his Anointment; the woman who is holding up a piece of material is probably St Veronica, and her presence alludes to Calvary; finally, the angels who are carrying the instruments of the Passion represent the Crucifixion.
The left wing depicts a donor. Behind the figure stands the hill of Golgotha. The central cross between the two thieves has been left empty, with a ladder propped against it, to remind us of the Descent from the Cross. The right wing represents the Resurrection. The gold background of all three panels is decorated with a motif of vine branches and grapes, symbols of Christ, the true vine.
The figures in the central panel are noticably larger than those on the wings. The viewer thus feels closer to the central scene than to those on either side. Otherwise, however, the treatment of space is entirely traditional. On the left wing, for instance, the landscape behind the donor is quite shallow, and the figures are not shown one behind the other, but are ranged vertically and all depicted on the same scale.