Van Orley’s Mirrors +1

This posting will be again about the ‘mirror-thingies’, and again about van Orley. Soon after I finished my previous posting about this Flemish master, I found another his work, with even more striking example of the ‘pseudo-mirrors’. I decided not to blend this story with the earlier posting, but write a separate one.

The painting above is described as the Man of Sorrows (c. 1515), which is one of the epithets of Christ. It is also the name of a certain genre of paintings, usually depicting crucified Jesus, often together with the various tools to make him suffer even more (worth noticing that we don’t see mirrors in this paintings!)

In this case, however, we do see a mirror (well, the “mirror”) on the back side of the panel:

This rather complex composition depicts the scenes related to the birth of John the Baptist. Its official name is The Birth and Naming of Saint John the Baptist (and by the way, we also see his brutal death – see the insert of the future in the upper left register).

The panel is quite large, 60 × 75 cm, oil on wood, and it is believed to be the (presumably left) side of the altar that Bernard van Orley made in 1514 for the the Benedictine abbey near the Belgian town of Tournai.

I already wrote about at least two paintings on the same subject, both also having similar ‘mirrors’:

1. The Altar of St. John the Baptist by Juan de Flandes, where one of the panels depicts St. Elizabeth in bed after she gave birth to John, and where her husband, the priest Zechariah, is just about to regain his vocal power, after writing the name of the child.

2. The Birth of John the Baptist by Jan Rombouts, where we don’t see the father, but see a bathing scene of John instead.

Here we see both elements –  John in a basin, and Zechariah writing the name:

But for me the key point is the object hanging above the St.Elyzabeth’s head:

This is probably the largest “thing” of this kind that I ever came across during my searches, both in terms of its absolute size and its resolution (I rarely find good copies of the paintings on the web):

It is also likely one of the largest ‘reflections’  in such “mirrors” (excluding, perhaps, the van Eyck’s Arnolfini ‘Mirror’). I can assume that there is a similar reflection, of the sick Rich Man in the ‘mirror’ on his Patience triptych, but still have to check the original to confirm it. And in any case, this triptych was created later that this panel, and in many ways could be seen as a prototype, or a rehearsal:

The frame’s design is very elaborate, not to say quite luxurious (and it also seems to me that the rim contains some inscription, though I can’t decode it yet).

There is no special ‘meaning’ or ‘morale’ in this posting, it’s literally just a report on the newly found artefact, yet another piece of the puzzle I am trying to solve. More pieces are still to be found, and more efforts are needed to compile something meaningful our of them.

For example, the role of the rabbit in the whole scene remains unclear to me; was it the coat of arms of van Orley?




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