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

Triptych of Virtue of Patience

Oil on oak, 176 x 184 cm (centre), 174 x 80 cm (each wing)
Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels

The triptych, which was very likely commissioned by Margaret of Austria, the governor of the Low Countries, depicts two biblical episodes illustrating the virtues of patience: the Book of Job and the parable of Lazarus the beggar and the rich man. Since the Middle Ages it had been common practice to draw a parallel between the resignation of Job and of Lazarus in the face of misfortune and the constancy of their faith in God.

On the inside of the triptych, the story of Job begins on the left wing. Whilst in heaven Satan proposes to God to test the faith of this wealthy man, the faithful servant of Good, the first calamities rain down. Job's entire flocks are led off by the Sabeans. On the central panel, the unleashed forces of evil bring down the palace, killing Job's sons and daughters. The painter accentuates the dramatic character of the scene by numerous foreshortenings and obliques, which have the effect of pushing the picture towards the spectator. In the background countryside scene, we see Job himself sacrificing to God; to the right, naked and covered with sores, he is being cursed by his wife. On the right inner wing, Job has recovered his earlier wealth and descends the steps of his palace towards his former friends who implore his intercession.

Van Orley creates his masterpiece by marrying the Flemish tradition with the new directions of Italian art and his own inventiveness. The result is a veritable profession of faith in the Renaissance, underlined by the artist's motto, "Elx syne tyt" (each in his time) inscribed on the pillar to the left of the central panel.