WEYDEN, Rogier van der
(b. 1400, Tournai, d. 1464, Bruxelles)
Pen over chalk tracing on paper, 298 x 425 mm
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
The curious drawing of the Scupstoel is connected not with a painting but with a sculpture, more precisely the relief ornamentation of a capital. This capital belonged the pillars on the lower floor of the west wing of the Brussels town hall, built from around 1447 to 1450, and although severely damaged it is still extant. Exactly reflecting the motif of the drawing, a carving of men shoveling chairs (a literal translation of the word "Scupstoel" = shovel chair) runs in high relief around the entire capital. The drawing represents a development of the curved surface of the conical architectural member. It cannot have been actually copied from the relief, for a draftsman wishing to record the different aspects of the capital would have either drawn the figures individually or shown the whole scene as a flat strip. The drawing must thus have been connected with the design of the capital, with its special manner of surface projection corresponding to the requirements of the sculptors carving the relief. However, the drawing, which is relatively well preserved in spite of its large dimensions, cannot have been the actual model, which would have been worn out with intensive use.
It seems very likely that the Brussels city council turned to their painter Rogier with a commission to design the capital. He must have prepared the basic design of the scene, and both the model followed by the sculptors and the extant drawing were presumably then copied from that design. Their author would have been an assistant in Rogier's workshop, perhaps one of the painters who participated in work on the panels of scenes from the life of St. Hubert (National Gallery, London), in which the faces of certain figures in the background are strongly reminiscent of the heads of the shoveling men. Perhaps Rogier himself merely sketched out the design and then directed his assistants to prepare a more detailed drawing as a model for the city council who had commissioned it. Or perhaps his design passed into the hands of the council, and he had a copy made by his assistants for the workshop stocks.