Fifteenth-century Netherlandish devotional portrait diptychs: Origins and function

by Gelfand, Laura Deborah

Abstract (Summary)
Devotional portrait diptychs, those which contain a donor in prayer on one wing and the Virgin and Child on the other, are a unique form of devotional painting. These works attained popularity in the Burgundian Netherlands between c.1430 and c.1540. Their production stopped as quickly as it had begun and their limited geographical distribution is striking. This dissertation identifies the origins of the devotional portrait diptych, traces the history of the paintings, and identifies their function. The Book of Hours was, like the devotional diptych, an accessory to private devotions, and became popular in the years just before the devotional diptych was first created. The iconography of owner portraits found in Books of Hours and the prayers with which these portraits were associated elucidate the origins of the devotional diptych. The Valois Dukes played an important role in Flemish art and their impact on the commissioning of devotional portrait diptychs was no less impressive. Evidence from the Chartreuse of Champmol, as well as from the ducal inventories, shows that the dukes were the first to commission and possess devotional portrait diptychs. Philip the Good was particularly important in the inception of the form and it is in Jan van Eyck's Virgin in a Church, Berlin, that we find evidence of the first portable devotional portrait diptych. Rogier van der Weyden popularized the half-length devotional diptych in his commissions for the members of the court of Philip the Good. Later artists, beginning with Memling and ending with Jan Gossart, utilized the devotional diptych form. The development and changes of the form which occurred in the decades between these artists are investigated. Some devotional portrait diptychs were intended as tomb paintings and the implications of this are discussed in the final chapter. The vanitas and memento mori devices that appear on the backs of devotional diptychs images are evidence of this practice. Finally, the importance of donor portraits in other religious art is connected with the portraits found in devotional diptychs. The desires of the donors are the common link among tomb sculptures, manuscript illuminations, and public and private paintings.
Bibliographical Information:


School:Case Western Reserve University

School Location:USA - Ohio

Source Type:Master's Thesis

Keywords:fifteenth century netherlandish devotional portrait diptychs origins function


Date of Publication:01/01/1994

© 2009 All Rights Reserved.