Portinari altarpiece | Hugo van der Goes | 1475

Portinari altarpiece | Hugo van der Goes | 1475

Portinari altarpiece | Hugo van der Goes | 1475

Hugo van der Goes is one of the early Dutch painters along with van Eyck, Memling and David.

We are noticed that, in 1475, the artist entered in a monastery to pursuit a spiritual life and, in the same year, he painted his masterpiece: the Portinari altarpiece, which represents the nativity, it is, the birth of Jesus.

Tomasso Portinari is the name of the banker that commissioned the work to van der Goes for a chapel in Florence, Italy. Although the reasons of the wealthy may seem noble, we have to look closer; as he and his whole family appear in the representation (talking about narcissism!).

In the left panel we see Portinari kneeled down next to his two sons. In the right panel, his wife also appears kneeled down next to their daughter. All the members of the family, except for the youngest, have their patron saint standing behind them: in the left panel we see Saint Thomas with his spear and Saint Anthony with his bell. On the right one, we can see Mary Magdalene with her anointment pot and Saint Margaret with her book.

The central figure of the work is not Jesus, but his mother, Mary. The baby, instead of appearing in a cradle, as he is often characterized, is right on the floor. At the right of the central panel, we can see the three wise men oddly represented, because they don’t look like kings; rather, they seem like wondering bums. All around the characters from the central panel, we find angels adoring, in different positions and attitudes, the son of God.

At last, another curious thing about the work are the scenes that are painted in the background of each panel. Each scene is related, symbolically or real, with the nativity. So, in the left panel, we can see Joseph fleeing from Egypt with his pregnant wife; in the central panel, to the right, we can find the shepherds receiving the annunciation of the birth of Christ; and, on the right panel, we can see the three wise men going towards Bethlehem.

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~ by Álvaro Mazzino on January 27, 2011.

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