THE Ecce Homo
triptych, commissioned for the Augustinian Priory in Dordrecht, in
the northern Netherlands, in 1544, remained there for less than 30
Like a great deal of
Dutch devotional art, it fell victim to the Protestant revolution
that accompanied William of Orange's campaign against Spain. Unlike
many works, however - including everything else from the Dordrecht
Priory - it survived.
In 1572, Dordrecht sided
with the nascent revolt against Philip II; the prior was captured,
the monks fled, and the first Reformed services were held in the
whitewashed church on 25 July.
The Ecce Homo
triptych had been removed by then, reclassified as a piece of
domestic art, and given residence in the house of a wealthy wine
merchant and collector, Matthijs Berck.
To complete its history,
the triptych appeared in a Stuttgart auction in 1870, where it was
bought by a German book publisher, Heinrich von Korn. He presented
it to the Schlesische Museum der Bildenden Künste in Breslau,
which, in 1946, gave it to the National Museum in Warsaw.
In 2009, the National
Museum invited conservators from the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los
Angeles to consider work on the triptych. As a result, it travelled
to the United States for renovation, which was completed last
THE triptych is the work of Maerten van Heemskerck
(1498-1574), an acclaimed Dutch artist, who combined rugged,
muscular figures with Renaissance elegance. His self-portrait
depicts him in front of the Colosseum in Rome during his seminal
visit in 1532. He was commissioned to produce the triptych by Jan
van Drenckwaerdt, one of the most prominent figures in Dordrecht,
who served as Sheriff for more than 30 years. Jan is depicted on
the left-hand panel, his recently deceased wife, Margaretha, on the
Behind Jan is St John,
holding his poisoned chalice; Margaretha kneels in front of St
Margaret of Antioch. Both saints are depicted again on the closed
panels of the triptych, designed to look like stone statues in
The main panel shows
Pilate presenting the beaten Jesus to the crowds: "Behold the man."
As was conventional at the time, the crowd members around him are
shown as grotesques.
THE work was well
preserved and in its original frame. It was, none the less, in need
of careful cleaning. The restoration revealed much about
Heemskerck's technique. For example, he worked quickly, and was not
worried about using impressionistic brushstrokes for minor
Something of his palette
can be seen in details from two other paintings, different versions
of St Luke Painting the Virgin. Among the materials he
used was ground glass, employed to bulk up expensive pigments, but
also to add a luminosity. The cleaning, and some careful
photography, revealed much, including shadowy figures behind
Christ's head, and painted carvings behind St John to match those
behind St Margaret.
The story of the
painting and its restoration is told in Drama and
Devotion: Heemskerck's "Ecce Homo" altarpiece from Warsaw by
Anne T. Woolett, Yvonne Szafran, and Alan Phenix (Getty, £16.99;