Note: These comments are prepared and shared with you so that you can meet Dieric Bouts (artist) and his subject The Meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek, a detail of his altarpiece triptych in Sint-Pieterskerk, Leuven The Meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek is part of an altarpiece by Dieric Bouts (c.1415 -1475). Although Bouts, The Elder (his sons also were painters) was Dutch, his career and artistic reputation was established in Flanders (now Belgium) where he lived and worked. His triptych (trip-tik) for St. Peter’s Church in Leuven is regarded to be one of his finest paintings. A triptych (from the Greek: tri – meaning “three,” plus ptyche – the word for “fold”) is a three-paneled altarpiece found notably in churches from the Middle Ages through the Renaissance. Early triptychs were relief carvings in wood or ivory but egg tempera became the favored medium of painters during the thirteenth and fourteenth century. Egg tempera offered a wide range of colors but by the fifteenth century it, too, was being replaced as oils became the medium of choice. Oil paints offered ease of application and with it a greater range of effects could be achieved. Dieric Bouts worked in oils on wood panels. In a triptych, the outer panels are usually half the size of the middle panel and are attached with hinges so they can be folded like shutters. A typical triptych has a familiar Biblical scene in the large center panel while the side panels provide a supporting cast of figures or related stories. The side panels may also include the donor(s) as part of a tableau. When the outer panels are folded their reverse sides become the front of the triptych and they also are carved or painted usually in keeping with the overall theme.
In the center panel, Bouts’ principal subject in the triptych at Leuven is the Last Supper. The two outer panels – each containing two paintings one above the other – are Biblical scenes from Old Testament events in which the provision of bread was interpreted as prefiguring the Last Supper.
The left hand panel: The upper painting of the left panel depicts the Meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek when Melchizedek offers bread and wine to Abraham as he returns from battle. Below that painting is the Feast of the Passover in which unleavened bread will be eaten.
The center panel: Christ is the focus of attention with his face just above the exact center of the triptych. He and his disciples are seated at a table and are about to break bread and participate in the communion. The architectural setting is gothic in style.
The right hand panel: The upper painting of the right panel is The Gathering of Manna. Manna is described as a bread-like tasting substance provided by the Lord. The painting below it is Elijah in the Desert. Bread is given to Elijah by an angel.
In Bouts’ triptych, the four Old Testament stories in which bread plays a role are intended to communicate visually the message of a connection between the stories and the Last Supper. Additional Notes:
As is found often in Gothic and Renaissance painting, the clothing and architectural styles in the Meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek are not in keeping with the time period being depicted. The men are dressed in the manner of Europeans of the fifteenth century, and the architecture in the distance is not of Biblical times but rather typical of the time in which Bouts lived. It even includes a gothic church.
Developments in the art of Europe varied from place to place and often it is difficult to give a name to designate a style. Historians may refer to the style of fifteenth century Northern Europe as “Late Gothic” whereas the art of Italy during that same time period may be referred to as “Early Renaissance.”
A painting consists of pigment, a surface, and a medium. Pigments are derived from many sources, ranging from earth colors to organic material. A surface may be anything as long as it is compatible, or can be coated to make it compatible, with the type of paints that are being used. The medium is a binder that mixes with the pigments to hold the fine particles together and to bond it to the surface that is being used. Egg yolk is the medium in egg tempera; linseed or other oils are used in oil paints.
______________ © 2012 Hovak Najarian