ORLEY, Bernaert van
(b. 1491/92, Bruxelles, d. 1542, Bruxelles)

Haneton Triptych (centre panel)

Oil on oak, 87 x 108,5 cm
Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels

The centre of the triptych offers Christ's entombment to our contemplation. The Virgin, St John, Mary Magdalene and the two Maries surround the corpse a few moments before its burial. Tears stream down their faces like translucent pearls and the brownish shadows underline their painful expressions. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus appear in the rear, awkwardly linked to the group by the presence of the crown of thorns reminding us that it is they who took Christ down from the cross.

Van Orley has removed the scene from its historical context, taking out any narrative element, other than a corner of the stone tomb visible to the bottom right, and focusing attention on the persons pressed one against another against the gilded background. This converts the entombment into an act of devotion, continuing the tradition of the Flemish Primitives. On the other hand, the fluid shapes, the monumental nature of the figures and certain attitudes point to the influence of Dürer and of Italian artists. Van Orley, who was also a well-known decorator and designer of tapestries and stained glass windows, repeats the same composition, with the addition of a landscape background and the tomb, in a tapestry conserved at the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

Ancient literary sources tell us that the work was commissioned from Van Orley by Philippe Haneton around 1520, to be placed above the family tomb in the church of St Gudule in Brussels. The donor held high political office, having been appointed first secretary of the Grand Council by Charles V in 1518, and tasked with judging petitions for audiences with the emperor. He was also the treasurer of the Order of the Golden Fleece. He is shown on the left wing, surrounded by his seven sons. The donor's wife, Marguerite Numan, accompanied by her five daughters, is shown on the right wing, under the protection of Margaret of Antioch.

When closed the triptych shows the Annunciation painted in grisaille.