Lucas van Leyden 1494 – 1533

The Descent of the Holy Spirit

oil on panel (c. 53 × 60 cm) — 1530 Museum Museum Catharijneconvent, Utrecht

Lucas van Leyden biography

This work is linked to Acts 2:2

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Triptych with the Descent of the Holy Spirit in the central panel. To the left is the Ascension of Christ, and to the right the Assumption of Mary. So in all three panels there is traffic between Heaven and Earth.

To the left, Christ stands in a cloud that will take him to heaven. He has spent forty days among his followers after having risen from death. The apostles and Mary watch.

Ten days later, on Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descends on the apostles and Mary. In this panel Mary is accompanied by two unknown female saints. There are small flames on the heads of all people present: the "cloven tongues like as of fire" that would enable them to speak "with other tongues".

The composition of scene in the central panel was copied from a woodcut Albrecht Dürer made in 1511. There is extra depth by putting two apostles in the foreground who seem to be looking into the scene.

To the right, Mary is taken up into heaven by her son and his father. The tiny figure on the ground is the apostle Thomas. According to a tradition, he was absent when Mary passed away and therefore went to her grave to pay his respect - at the exact moment she was taken up. She threw her girdle at him. When he told the story, his friends wouldn't believe him - a twist to his previous incredulity.

It is unknown whether Lucas van Leyden himself painted this triptych or that the work was done by someone in his surroundings.

Sizes: central panel 53 x 32 cm, wings 53 x 12 cm. Image credits: Museum Catharijneconvent, Utrecht, photo by Ruben de Heer.

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