Christ of Mercy

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Christ of Mercy

This panel, which forms the back of the so-called Baldachin of Margaret of Austria or Dais of Charles V, depicts Christ on the Cross. Below the Virgin Mary and St. John to the right, and the figure of Mercy and the personification of Justice to the left. The theme of Redemption is underscored here. The cross stands under an undulating Latin inscription which emphasizes Christ’s suffering undertaken to expiate man’s sins.

Christ’s suffering for mankind

Christ’s crucifixion forms the central image, the cross stands out against the backdrop of an extensive landscape. Two mourning angels frame Christ on either side. Below to the right, a seated Mary mourns her son while St. John looks to the figures of Mercy and Justice to the left. The multiple, allegorical meanings of mercy are reinforced by the inscriptions on Justice’s sword which is she is putting back into its sheath (IVSTICIA), and on the hem of Mercy’s gown (MISERICORDIA).

Mercy for man’s sins

The figure of Mercy kneels before the cross, while she looks up at Christ she collects the blood from his open wound in an ornate gilt chalice. Christ looks down upon her with closed eyes. The gold inscription above his head underscores his sacrifice: “Through my blood I have erased the many sins of the first parent.” Mercy responds to Christ’s dialogue on the cross with another Latin inscription in gold, which extends from her mouth to the bleeding gash on his side: “I will distribute the costly blood of Man to those present”. The figure of Mercy who collects the blood of Christ is an allegory of the Holy Blood. The Habsburg court in Brussels was very dedicated to the cult of the Eucharist, which symbolically represents Christ’s body. Therefore, Margaret’s choice of this theme of sacrifice is in keeping with the forms of devotion she practiced and observed at the Malines court.

The Expulsion from Paradise

In the remote landscape two tiny vignettes can be barely distinguished. To left of and behind the spout of blood, Adam and Eve can be seen in miniature, and to right, just next to Mary’s head, their expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Man’s original sin is the cause of Christ’s death on the Cross seen here. As viewers (and as sinners) we are again confronted with the theme of Redemption.

Pieter de Pannemaker, tapestry weaver in Brussels

In August of 1523 Pieter de Pannemaker, a leading weaver in Brussels, signed a contract with the Regent Margaret of Austria to weave this panel and a canopy as complementary tapestries for another cycle known today as the Square Passion, on display at the Royal Palace of La Granja de San Ildefonso. This document describes these additional panels as a rich canopy with its hangings (“ung riche ciel de tapisserie avec les gouttières”). Margaret’s favorite court painter, Bernard van Orley, is thought to have designed the cartoons, under the influence of the engravings by Albrecht Dürer, whom he met in Brussels at his home in 1520, and Lucas Cranach. The impact of Raphael, the Italian Renaissance painter whom van Orley met in Rome, is evident as well.


An undulating inscription in the sky above Christ’s head reads:

PROTHO PARE(N)TIS SA(N)GUINE SOLVI DEBITA MVLTA QUOD SVPER EST MISERICORDIA PARTICIPA (Through my blood I have paid the sins of the first father. Mercy take charge of what remains)

From the mouth of Mercy an inscription reads:

SA(N)GVI(NI?)S HO(MIN)I P(RE)CIV(M) (PRECIOSVM) DISTRIBVA(M) INDIGENIS (I will distribute the price of the costly blood of Man to those present)

Series Dais of Charles V (Baldachin of Margaret of Austria)

Tapestry panel behind the dais

Model Bernard van Orley (1491-1542)

Manufacture Pieter de Pannemaker, Brussels, 1518-1524

Fabric Gold, silver, silk and wool

Size 210 x 210 cm

Location Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial

Origin Collection of Margaret of Austria, later inherited by Charles V in 1530

On display Halls of Honour

National Heritage Inv. n. 10034480


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