GALEN, Nicolaes van
(active 1657 in Hasselt)

Count Willem III Presides over the Execution of the Dishonest Bailiff in 1336

Oil on canvas, 192 x 213 cm
Town Hall, Hasselt

In 1657, the Hanseatic town of Hasselt in the north of the province of Overijssel acquired a larger than life painting which still occupies its original place in Hasselt's late Gothic Town Hall. The scene it depicts is set indoors, but light pours in from the left, creating a number of vivid still-lifes. The represented scene is the last moment before the execution of a man. He is a bailiff, or magistrate, of a Dutch village, who purloined a cow, a peasant's most cherished possession.The peasant, seeking justice from a higher authority, had made a long journey to put his case before Count William III. The count summoned the bailiff, found him guilty of abusing the power vested in him and had him beheaded on the spot.

Nothing is known about the artist but his name from the signature of this painting. No other paintings are known by him. However, experts consider this painting a masterpiece: the paint appears to have been applied with fluency and ease in clearly defined fields; the painter has captured the different textures of stone, velvet, lustrous satin, downy feathers and fur.

There is an interesting, alternative suggestion for the attribution of the painting. According to it, the Hasselt burgomasters may have reached an agreement with the guild that a 'foreigner' itinerant painter, Abraham van der Planck was to paint, but not sign, the picture. Van Galen, who was from the town, would place his signature on the work instead.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.