A lost fifteenth-century drawing rediscovered: Donors Kneeling in Adoration before the Virgin and Child with Saint Anne
A lost fifteenth-century drawing rediscovered: Donors Kneeling in Adoration before the Virgin and Child with Saint Anne
The Bacri drawing is in pen on parchment, in some
parts layered with wash like the examples from Bruges.
Its layout also evokes a votive composition, but on
a larger scale, showing seven characters coiffed and
dressed as Burgundian courtiers. They kneel behind
a man whom I believe to be Anselme Adornes, the
likely patron of the work. With his hands clasped, he is
praying before the Virgin who holds out an apple with
her right hand, while supporting the Christ Child with
her left. The sacred group is placed at the feet of Saint
Anne rather than on her lap, as was more usual, for
example in the altarpiece of Saint Anne by Gerard David
(fig. 4).11 The saint, seated majestically on a throne
surmounted by a canopy with thick curtains parted
by a winged angel, lays her hand on an open book.
The composition is, in its present state, incomplete on
the right-hand side, as evidenced by the fragmented
flaps of the curtain, the column, of which only part
of the base remains, and the absence of a second
angel. Another group, probably comprising Anselme
Adornes’s wife accompanied by her daughters, would
have mirrored the male worshippers.12 These missing
elements probably formed the right part of a triptych
composition divided by small columns.
Fig. 4 / Gerard David, Saint
Anne Altarpiece, central
panel, ca. 1500-1506, oil
on panel, 236 x 97.5 cm,
Washington, DC, National
Gallery of Art.
The architectural decor in both drawings consists of
heavy late Gothic canopies, evoking contemporary
architecture and sculpture, as well as the decorative
elements of Brabant altarpieces from the last third of
the fifteenth century (figs. 5, 6 & 7). Key elements of the
spatial construction, these canopies crown the donors
and the sacred group. The rendering of volume is less
sensitive in the Bruges drawing; the criss-cross of stone
projects flatly in a somewhat lifeless interpretation.
Its form might evoke the onion dome of the Holy
Sepulchre which may have provided a model for the
roof of the Jerusalem Church, a memorial to the
Adornes family containing the Calvary relics which
Anselme brought back from the Holy City. By including
only the graphic outlines of forms in a contemporary
Gothic vocabulary, the artist was able to display his
drawing skills while leaving details of the production to
the sculptor’s creativity.
In the Bacri drawing, on the other hand, the canopies
display a very elaborate Brabant Gothic style with an
extraordinary wealth of detail. Under the dome, there
is a second style of twinned bays which do not feature
in the Bruges drawings. All the ornaments fit clearly
into the space, with different levels of depth. It should
be noted that the crown of the canopy on the right is
not included. Only the sketch of the dome and a stone
band with a succession of small jewels are represented,
a decoration which is repeated at the base of the left
twin dome and above the throne of Saint Anne.
Fig. 5 / Detail of architectural
canopy in Fig. 1.
Fig. 6 / Jan Borman
(workshop), Altarpiece of the
Virgin, ca. 1520-1530, oil on
oak, 245 x 528 cm, Lombeek,
Church of Our Lady.
Fig. 7 / Anonymous, Altarpiece
of the Seven Joys of the Virgin,
ca. 1513-1522, sculpted
alabaster, 550 x 325 x 75 cm,
Bourg-en-Bresse, Royal
Monastery of Brou, Church of
Saint Nicholas of Tolentin.
The Bacri and Bruges drawings both display fine
oblique shading and cross-hatching that define the
shadows on the clothing and architectural elements.
In the Adornes portraits, shadows in the depths of
the arches highlight the figures, while in the Parisian
design the backgrounds are decorated with floral motifs
around and behind the architectural elements.
The architectonic structures of the two compositions
have several similar elements such as the slender
columns with hipped bases framing the scenes, the


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