Panel Paintings with Narrative Scenes: Function and Typology of Horizontal Panels in North-Western Europe 1400 – 1500
Pereira Neto, Ricardo Fernando
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In the Sint-Katharinakerk of Hoogstraten in the province of Antwerp is preserved a fifteenth-century panel painting by a Netherlandish anonymous master depicting scenes from the life of St Joseph. Measuring 64 x 203 cm in a long horizontal format, it was for a long time considered a copy of Robert Campin’s The Betrothal of the Virgin (Museo del Prado) and an unusual size within the Early Netherlandish panorama. The panel appears in the nineteenth century in the church; no documentation regarding the commission, provenance, and authorship survives. Nevertheless, no systematic study has been conducted, leading the scholarship to make wrong assumptions. Since 2021 the painting is at KIK-IRPA, Brussels for restoration which will shed light on technical aspects that should be considered. This study aims to re-evaluate the function of the Hoogstraten panel by comparing it with other examples of horizontal panels in north-western Europe – in the Burgundian holdings in the Southern Netherlands, Germany (Augsburg) and parts of France (Avignon and Paris) – in the period between 1400 to 1500. Aspects such as socio-historical context, iconography, patronage, original provenance, and setting will also be discussed. Therefore, this study is divided into two chapters; the first starts with some general notions of measurements and guilds’ regulations for the region of Flanders, followed by an iconographical analysis of seventeen panels of the ‘corpus’. In the second chapter, the paintings’ functions will be studied. Here some clarifications regarding misunderstandings in previous scholarship are made. Respecting the painting Scenes from the Life of St Joseph, essential data will be evaluated and also an attempt to clarify the provenance, patronage, and function. As a result, this first systematic study of the Hoogstraten panel concludes that whatever the identity of the painter, he was aware of both Campin’s and Van der Weyden’s models, as well as of the Netherlandish painting panorama. In the lack of further evidence, it is impossible to determine the patron, provenance, and panel’s original function, but some options are given which might lead us to conclude that it was used as an altarpiece in the altar of the guild of St Joseph of Hoogstraten at Sint-Katharinakerk.