Christ on the Cross Adored by Eight Saints of the Dominican Order, by the Flemish painter Abraham van Diepenbeeck (1596-1675), from the Louvre, Paris.
The museum website describes the work as following:
“This grisaille work was a model for an engraving by Adriaen Lommelin (c. 1616-after 1673). It is dated 1652 and dedicated to the newly appointed bishop of Ypres, the Dominican Ambrosius Capello. The saints represent the qualities a bishop should aspire to: doctrinal wisdom, Marian devotion, courage, rectitude, zeal in pastoral work and in preaching, charity, and intelligence-all under the sign of the cross, Verbum Cruci.
A preparatory work for an engraving
Abraham van Diepenbeeck worked on numerous projects for engravings and book illustrations. This pictorial study mainly uses black and white to indicate the presence of light and shadow for the engraver. In 1652 Adriaen Lommelin produced some forty prints from an engraving based on this painting. The engraving bears a Latin inscription, or rather a dedication by the monks of the Dominican monastery in Antwerp to their former prior, Marius Ambrosius Capello, a member of a patrician family from Italy who had settled in Antwerp, to commemorate his promotion to the position of bishop of Ypres. He was subsequently the seventh bishop of Antwerp, from 1654 to 1676. The brothers wish to see him practice the virtues of the eight Dominican saints shown at the foot of the cross, all proclaiming the Verbum Crucis-the Word of the Cross-as the Latin inscription on the phylactery borne by the cherubs indicates: “We, too, are preaching Christ on the cross.”
The identity of each saint is indicated by his or her attributes. Each illustrates a particular quality that should inspire Capello in his ministry. Saint Thomas Aquinus, representing doctrinal wisdom, is about to begin writing, directly inspired by the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove. Saint Hyacinth of Krakow, representing Marian devotion, is pointing at a statue of the Virgin. Saint Peter of Verona, tortured with daggers and cutlasses, represents courage. Saint Catherine of Siena, wearing a crown of thorns and bearing the stigmata, is the image of pure devotion. Saint Dominic, carrying a Marian lily, represents zeal in pastoral work. His name, domini canis, the Lord’s dog, explains the presence of the black-and-white dog at his feet. Saint Vincent Ferrer’s zeal in preaching is evident as he points towards Heaven to remind us of the Last Judgment, while the little child is an allusion to one of the miraculous cures he effected. The elderly Saint Raymond of Peñafort, the theologian of the sacrament of penitence, is the symbol of vigilance and rectitude. Finally, Saint Antoninus, archbishop of Florence, symbolizes just intelligence and charity. His scales are tipped towards the paper bearing the words Deo Gratias (legible only on the engraving), which are thus heavier than the fruit offered to the saint by a peasant in the hoping of winning his good favor.
Variations in tone and color
Van Diepenbeeck painted this model in grisaille to make the engraver’s task easier. Yet the work is much more than a simple preparatory study, since it plays on subtle variations in tone and color. Heaven is a gray-mauve color, contrasting with the browns and golds of the earthly realm of the saints. The cold gray of the dead tree likewise contrasts with the warm brown of the cross-the Tree of Life. Van Diepenbeeck’s paintings are characterized by the generosity of their forms and their flickering lines; he was one of the best imitators of the art of Rubens in the 1630s.”