UNKNOWN MASTER, Flemish
(active 1440s in Leuven)
Oil on oak panel, 100 x 105 cm (central panel), 105 x 53 cm (each wing)
The triptych, painted for Wilhelm Edelheere, a patrician of Leuven, shows how unusual and impressive Rogier van der Weyden's Deposition must have been in its time - this is a very early case of an almost exact copy, for the fashion for such copies of Rogiers's pictures did not really set in until near the end of the century. However, Rogier's composition was obviously beyond the anonymous painter, who has not really succeeded in reproducing either the proportions as a whole or the individual figures. The niche Rogier painted is deep enough at the bottom of the picture to accommodate several figures, the upright of the Cross, and the ladder leaning against it; but in some areas at the top it seems to come close to the surface of the picture - the helper on the ladder is pressed tightly into the shallow upper space of the shrine, while the head of the bearded Joseph of Arimathaea just below seems to protrude from the picture. All the figures are brought forward by the golden back wall so that the space surrounds them closely: convincing as their actions may look individually, there would never really have been room for them all. The result is a sense of timelessness and an almost oppressive intensity. The lesser painter of the Edelheere Altarpiece could obviously not understand this effect, and "corrected" the picture: his copy makes the painted niche deep enough throughout to give the figures enough space. He also enlarged the size of the Cross, thus presenting something that really does resemble a painted carved altar, with doll-like figures performing the scene of a Deposition.
In the wings showing portraits of the family, however, he was able to give his own abilities free rein, to better effect. The donors are shown being recommended by their patron saints, on the left St James the Greater, on the right St Elisabeth of Thuringia.