By Bernhard Ridderbos, Anne van Buren, Henk van Veen
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Extra info for Early Netherlandish Paintings: Rediscovery, Reception, and Research
This motif was added later, but still in the fifteenth century. 74 Other multitudes advance on the flanking panels, making their way to the heavenly meadow from different parts of the earth. The frames of the side panels are original, each inscribed with the name of one group. On the far left, the stolen panel was labeled ‘Just Judges’ (Iusti Iudices), closer to the center are the ‘Soldiers of Christ’ (Christi Milites). The panel at the far right shows the ‘Holy Pilgrims’ (Peregrini Sancti), led by the giant Saint Christopher.
While some illusion of depth form the images on the outside, especially in the panels with the pseudo-sculptures, the composition on the inside resembles a frieze. The figures are separated by sharp contours and their robes enlivened by clearly articulated folds. The colors of the figures in heaven stand out against the golden clouds. A brilliant light from the left strikes Saint Michael’s white alb, in a strong contrast with the red of Christ’s mantle, and the red and gold of his cope, like the red of the vestments and wings of the smaller angels, contrast with the pale blue sky.
Because everything is reduced to its essence, Panofsky considered this panel the apogee of Rogier’s development, and dated it around 1462, two years before the painter’s death. 57 The contrast between Rogier’s more material Descent from the Cross and the restrained Escorial panel is surely related to the different groups for which they were intended: a laymen’s guild and a monastic house of a strict and contemplative order. Yet, it is also true that the two paintings are separated by some twenty years or even more.