Oud Holland

May 2022: New issue of Oud Holland

New issue: Oud Holland 135 (2022) 1

18 May 2022

With this issue, we release the 135th volume of Oud Holland. We turn to the opening pages with the greatest Flemish painters of the fifteenth century, Hubert and Jan van Eyck. Paul Claes provides new insights about the quatrain on the Ghent Altarpiece and Bernard Ridderbos offers a thorough new analysis of the famous polyptych in terms of its iconography and patrons.

Our journal has a history of publishing scholarly debates between multiple authors. Think of the discussion between Jørgen Wadum and Eric Jan Sluijter about the portrait of the young Rembrandt with gorget in Oud Holland 114 (2000). With this tradition, issue one of 2022 picks up on a spirited discussion about Rembrandt’s bankruptcy by Machiel Bosman, Dave De ruysscher and Cornelis in 't Veld.

Oud Holland wishes readers an inspiring season.

Editorial – p. 1


Paul Claes – A new reading of the quatrain on the Ghent Altarpiece – pp. 2-7


The recent conservation of the Van Eyck brothers' Ghent Altarpiece has demonstrated the authenticity of the Latin quatrain on the frame beyond doubt. This article offers two emendations and several explanations of the text.
The first verse of the quatrain needs to be corrected, since the word 'eeyck' as customarily transcribed is metrically, syntactically and morphologically incorrect. The irregular second foot of the hexameter, the preposition 'e', which is not appropriate for a toponym, and the hiatus between the e and the next vowel represent three anomalies that can be dispelled by the reading 'de eyck'. The leonine hexameter contains a shifted internal rhyme: 'Hubertus ~ repertus'. Additionally, the leonine rhyme of the second hexameter "Incepit· pondus· q(ue) Johannes arte secundus" is emphasised by the interpunction before the enclitic '-que'.
The damage to the beginning of the third hexameter requires philological restoration. The old transcription "Frater perfectus" is grammatically impossible but the modern conjecture "Frater perfecit" raises three objections: the expression 'pondus perficere' does not sound very idiomatic; the reading 'perfecit' disrupts the leonine rhyme 'perfectus ~ fretus'; and the ending of the sentence in the third verse leaves the final verse hanging without a clear subject. The conjecture 'perfunctus' solves all three problems. The deponent verb 'perfungi' governs 'pondus'. The form 'perfunctus' rhymes with 'fretus'. The participle construction announces the conclusion of the epigram.
The concluding verse "Versu sexta Mai· vos collocat acta tueri" is metrically problematic. The genitive 'Maii' or 'Mai' normally comprises two long syllables, while the scansion requires one long syllable. 'Mai' is an example of 'synizesis' – the contraction of two long consecutive syllables. The leonine eye rhyme 'Mai ~ tueri' is compensated for by a second internal rhyme: 'sexta ~ acta'. The verb 'collocare' (to place) has the specific meaning here 'to allot a place'. The construction 'collocat… tueri' should be read as a verb of motion with an infinitive of purpose (a biblical Hellenism). The verb 'tueri' does not mean 'to protect' in this instance but 'to behold'.
The inscription thus translates as: "Hubert van Eyck, the best painter ever to be found, began (this work) and his brother Johannes, who as second in art completed the task at the behest of Joos Vijd, summons you with a verse to admire his work here on the sixth of May."


Bernhard Ridderbos – The Ghent Altarpiece: Iconography and patronage – pp. 8-39


Although some scholars have argued the opposite, the Ghent Altarpiece by Hubert and Jan van Eyck, completed in 1432, was conceived as a coherent whole. From the start it was destined to visually accompany the masses that Joos Vijd and Elisabeth Borluut wished to have celebrated until the end of time, in their chapel in the Church of St John. The iconographic program can be interpreted by reconstructing how it was composed with the help of one or more theological advisors, in order to express the donors' hopes for the salvation of themselves and their ancestors. The coincidence of the inauguration of the Ghent Altarpiece and the baptism of Josse of Burgundy on the same day, 6 May 1432, gives no reason to assume that the program of the painting was adapted to commemorate the baptism and that, contrary to what the quatrain on the exterior frames states, the whole altarpiece was not yet completed on this date. Nor should the foundation act for a daily mass in the Vijd chapel, from 13 May 1435, be seen as an indication of a later date of completion, since it appears from this document that masses were already being held at this location. The purposes that the masses had to fufill, as worded in the act, constituted the basis for the iconographic program.
Whereas the images of the lower interior side panels were used for references to the Vijd family, the beatitudes that the donors hoped to attain acquired a specific significance in the Adoration of the Lamb: the tableau vivant representing the Ghent Altarpiece in 1458 and several other sources testify that the groups in this panel were intended to symbolise the Beatitudes, with accompanying texts on the lost frame. The fact that seven, instead of eight, Beatitudes were referred to can be explained by their usual connection with the Seven Gifts of the Holy Ghost. A promise of being comforted, however, which is also the subject of the missing Beatitude, is written, in the upper register, in the open book of John the Baptist, who is closely related to the Adoration.
The theory that the subject of the New Heaven and New Earth was chosen as a central theme of the interior is supported by two miniatures in the pre-Eyckian Apocalypse in Dietsche. They have a considerable number of motifs in common with the Ghent Altarpiece and may even have served as a source of inspiration for its program. These motifs were combined with elements from the iconography of the Deesis and of All Saints and they were attuned to the eucharistic function of the painting. The identification of the New Heaven and New Earth as the main subject of the interior leads to the insight that all parts of the exterior, including the texts of the prophets and sibyls and the text fragments in the Virgin’s book in the Annunciation, can be taken as preparing for the opened altarpiece.


Machiel Bosman - Rembrandt's insolvency: A critique – pp. 40-47
This is a response to D. De ruysscher and C. in 't Veld, 'Rembrandt’s insolvency: The artist as legal actor', Oud Holland 134 (2021), pp. 9-24.


Dave De ruysscher & Cornelis in ’t Veld - Rembrandt's insolvency: A reply – pp. 48-54
This is a response to M. Bosman, 'Rembrandt's insolvency: A critique', Oud Holland 135 (2022), pp. 40-47.