The Seven Sacraments by Rogier van der Weyden

The Seven Sacraments altarpiece is a painting by Rogier van der Weyden and his workshop. The approximate date when it was executed, based on clothing style, is around 1440-1445. It is not a triptych as it can not be folded.

Most internet sites list the location of the painting as the Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp. The painting does belong to the Antwerp museum but it is currently on view at the M Museum, Leuven (on long term loan from Antwerp). Here are some pictures I took when we accidentally ended up in the M. In hindsight I should have taken more as it is relevant to my Burgundian research. I will add information later on when I have more time.  Note that some faces look a bit muddled. This is because some faces were painted on foil  and glued to the panel afterwards. It is possible that this was because they were painted at the location of the portrayed, rather than in the atelier. It is believed that Rogier painted the middle panel and his workshop the two other panels. There is a glass panel in front of the painting but it is possible to view it from up close nevertheless. Note that Rogier has a tendency to use “stock” faces as I call them, ie, rather formulaic ways of painting faces (not saying they are badly painted). Also note that many van der Weyden paintings are copies after van der Weyden, because the originals are lost. What is so interesting about this painting is that there are many little scenes in the background, scattered over the panels.

Note that there are similarities//stock images that appear in other paintings by Rogier but I am not going to show those here. Same for the van Eyck paintings. I’m focused on two items: mirrors and crypto images of the Bold. With regard to images of the Bold: if the painting was indeed created between 1440 and 1445, the Bold would have been about 7-12 years old at the time.

A relatively good zoomable picture can be found here: Seven Sacraments.

The seven sacraments are:

On the left: Baptism, Confirmation and Confession.

In the middle: Eucharist

On the right: Anointing the sick, matrimony and holy orders.

This is a detail from the Baptism scene, with Confirmation behind it. The person who commissioned the painting is most likely Jean Chevrot. He can easily be recognised, he is the bishop in the Confirmation scene. Chevrot was an advisor of Philip the Good, so we can be on the lookout for crypto portraits in this painting. I am not sure if the man in black is supposed to depict Nicolas Rolin.

In the baptism scene some figures look familiar. The woman in red is similar to Margareta van Eyck (found this on Catchlight). The woman next to her looks familiar but can’t think of who it is right now.

Note the basin, a shiny round object. There is another round shiny object to the right, in the deathbed scene. The round shapes are also reflected in the wafer in the middle and the chaperons on the men’s backs. More shiny round objects can be seen on the chest of Chevrot.

I just took this picture because I’m interested in trippen and gathering documentation in order to create a pair.

Part of the Confirmation scene. Children walking away with headbands as if they received a good beating. In any case, the Bold would have been about the right age for his confirmation. I don’t know who the children are but the boy on the left looks a bit like Charles in one of the many miniatures featuring Charles as a child at the court, see the picture following next not by Rogier I think.

Mirrored minature with Charles in red. Now take a good look at the man in blue and try to remember him. I love Charles’ jacket, btw.

I read somewhere that it may be the children of the painter, can’t find much reference material to check this.

The crucifixion scene runs over two panels. These are all stock images from Rogier’s repository. His John the evangelist figure always looks more or less the same, so do the women and Christ.

The Eucharist scene takes place in the back. The wafer is a focal point in this scene and aligns with the cross. Nb I looked up the translation of all the Latin texts but so far did not discover anything significant in them.

Note that there are many triangles to be seen in this painting. For example: One major one with Christ as the top. A smaller one with the wafer as the top. One with John and the women. If you draw lines from the head of Christ you end up with the font on the left and the bowl of the last sacrament on the right: the beginning and the end. The line is going through the boy in blue and may include on the right the man in the corner.

On the right one can see The Holy orders, Matrimony and Anointing the sick scenes. Chevrot can easily be recognised, with Nicolas Rolin behind him.

Here is a detail of a miniature with the same two men, this one by Rogier:

I am not sure who the couple are. A projection of Charles the Bold with his bride in the future, as adults, with his mother to the right?

A small scene at the back of the church. Doesn’ the man in blue look familiar?

Another detail with two beggars behind the columns.

Details from the Holy Orders. I should try and figure out who the boy/man on the left is. It looks like a foil portrait so it must be an existing person.

The reading lady reminds us of another painting by Rogier with a similar reading lady, mirrored: The Magdalen reading


During a later visit I took some more pictures, for instance this one. There is a chance that the man with the chalice below is a portrait of Philip the Good.

Just some thoughts and a work in progress.


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