The Adoration Of The Shepherds

size(cm): 75x190
Sale price£594 GBP


The Adoration of the Shepherds by Hugo van der Goes has been perceived by art historians as an act of artistic implosion. 

Unusually large for the painter, it is less well known than his Portinari Triptych or his Monforte Altarpiece on the same subject. He produced it before giving up his worldly life and becoming a lay brother at Rouge-Cloître Abbey near Brussels, a branch house of the Windesheim Congregation in the strict tradition of the Brothers of Common Life.

The scene is flanked by two prophets from the Hebrew scriptures, who appear half-length and hold a green curtain, which is parted to reveal the scene. Standing in front of the scene, they act as intermediaries between it and the spectator, with the one on the right holding his hand and his mouth open as if to speak. According to art historian Hans Belting, the panel is in fact a scene in the theatrical sense, as we see the curtains open in the stable at Bethlehem as if the play is about to begin." The scene itself includes three shepherds, as well as a background scene that shows the angels announcing the birth of Christ.The Child Jesus looks at the viewer and behind him, Mary and Joseph there is a group of angels.

This painting dates from the last creative period of the artist. 'The Adoration of the Shepherds' has been identified on several occasions as a predella, that is, the lower part of an altarpiece, but this is unlikely for several reasons. Mary and Joseph are kneeling on either side of the manger, surrounded by the angels who adore the child with them. The shepherds, to whom the angel of God has announced the birth of Christ, rush in from the left, curious and full of joy. When faced with this miracle taking place before their eyes, they kneel or stop in a running position with their mouths open. The painting is framed to the right and left by two large half-length figures drawing back a curtain. These are the Old Testament prophets, who had predicted the birth of Christ. They underline the deep significance of the event as writers who had proclaimed that God would become man. The sheaf of corn next to the manger is vividly linked with the sacrament of the Lord's Supper and Christ's words: "I am the bread from heaven."

The Adoration would have represented the piety, wealth and sophistication of the owner or whoever commissioned it. At the same time, it certainly served a religious purpose as an altarpiece. The overlapping of personal status depicted and religious function performed is characteristic of the elite urban environment for which the painting was probably made accepting that the image's visual complexity, large size and vibrant color run counter to the ethos of poverty. worldly and spiritual espoused by the New Devotion movement.

Its original audience must have been both broader than the New Devotion and yet more limited. The complexity of the work relates most closely to the type of intricate vernacular poetry, exemplified by de Roovere's, which was popular with social elites in the late fifteenth century. In Hugo's painting, as in De Roovere's poetry, this pleasure is not incidental to its meaning. Instead, it drives the receiving process. The effort to decipher the compositions of Hugo and de Roovere may have provided a pretext for the sociable interaction of the members of the brotherhood who were probably the original viewers of the painting, and the intelligence of the painting and the poem would have gratified men like Tommaso Portinari and Hippolyte de Berthoz, whose artistic patronage was aimed at maximum effect in ducal, urban and religious circles.

The polyvalent religious patronage of Hugo's well-known clients and the religious function and social use of organizations such as the Holy Spirit and the Dry Tree confirm the easy blending of the mundane and the spiritual, the particular and the abstract, in the daily life of a city ​​like Bruges.

In 15th century Bruges, buyers of paintings had specific wants and needs for their purchases. Great paintings like Adoration of the Shepherds they provided their owners with the opportunity to map the ambitions of the social and political spheres into the spiritual domain. 

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