In 1512 van OrIey received a commission to create a winged altar for a chapel
in the church of Notre Dame de Sablon in Brussels. The central panel was
acquired for the Vienna gallery in 1809 by Emperor Francis I; the two wings
have also been preserved and are now in the Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique in Brussels. OrIey was commissioned by the local Guild of Masons and Carpenters, who chose the patron saints of their guild, Matthias and Thomas, as the subject. The painter uses a unified space to bring together the two very different lives, but divides the panel into two halves: the clear dividing line is placed in the central foreground, a pillar inspired by a late-Gothic church portal. After the Ascension of Christ, the Apostles cast lots to choose a successor to Judas, and Matthias was selected to replace him. This event is depicted in the scene at the right in a setting of sagnificent fantasy architecture inspired by Renaissance forms. Matthias became the patron saint of carpenters because he was allegedly martyred by having his head chopped off with an axe. According to legend, Christ appeared to Thomas and told him to build a Romanstyle palace for the Indian king Gondophernes (or Guduphara). He continued his missionary efforts but was killed by an Indian high priest who was beside himself. His martyrdom can be seen in the central scene on the left. In 1518, several years after the completion of this early work, van OrIey became court painter to the regent Margaret of Austria. After Jan Gossaert he shares the distinction with Jan van Scorel as the most important exponent of the first generation of NetherIandish Romanist painters who made study trips to Italy, introducing the new forms they found into northern art.
© Cäcilia Bischoff, Masterpieces of the Picture Gallery, Vienna 2010