Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Musee de l'Ancien Eveche | Panels from an altarpiece

These two panels come from an altarpiece associated with the chapel of the castle of Bon Repos, Jarrie, just to the south of Grenoble. The castle was built around 1470 by Guillaume Armuet. The panels are oil on wood and are dated to the late 15th or early 16th centuries, making them broadly contemporary with the earliest phase of construction. My understanding is that the surviving panels were positioned at the back of the altar, on either side of a depiction of the Nativity, though this central portion is now lost. The surviving pieces depict Jacob, Patriarch of the Old Testament, and his seven sons. Jacob is shown with a long beard and wearing an elaborate hat. The streaming scrolls, almost reminiscent of a James Gillray cartoon, are intended to show Jacob sharing prophesies with his ‘good’ sons about the coming of Christ and the advent of Christianity. However, shoved over on the right-hand edge is his ‘accursed’ son, Dan – founder of the Israelite tribe of the same name. Poor old Dan was shunned (and apparently here depicted as a grotesque) because of the belief that the Antichrist would come from within his tribe. Leaving aside Dan, I’m particularly drawn to how the artist has depicted the others in these panels. I can’t be sure, but my gut feeling is that they were drawn from real individuals from around 15th century Jarrie – possibly even members of the Armuet family themselves. Here they are, bedecked in an amazing array of hats, looking like they’re throwing gang signs for all eternity.

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