Petrus Christus (c. 1410-75/76), Altar Panel with a Portrait of a Donor in Scarlet and St Anthony, c. 1450. National Gallery of Denmark
Present-day spectators are likely to find themselves immediately captivated by the tactility of the kneeling donor’s scarlet cloak, the colour being accentuated by the complementarity of the mossy grass and tiny plants painted with a very fine brush.
Presence and immediacy
We are immediately drawn into the painting’s world through the folds of the cloak which reach all the way down to the edge of the image. The presence and immediacy created by such compositional devices is precisely what Petrus Christus was famed for in his day.
Reinvention and invigoration
He was among the standard-bearers in the reinvention and invigoration of the mute language of painting that took place in the southern Netherlands during the late 15th century. The new compositional ground won went hand in hand with an entire complex of adjustments to both content and form, the objective of which was to reflect and promote the appreciation of subjective religious experience prevalent at the time.
An element of a triptych
The painting before us today is, in effect, only a torso. It was originally the left panel of a triptych, and the reverse still bears traces of a grisaille (a painting executed in hues of grey) depicting the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary; a picture that would have been visible when the triptych was closed.