Jerusalem Triptych

Netherlandish or Northern German painterca. 1497–1500

The National Museum in Warsaw

The National Museum in Warsaw
Warsaw, Poland

This triptych originally resided in the chapel of a clerical brotherhood at St Mary’s Church in Gdańsk. There is a very noticeable difference in artistic quality between the superior side panels and the inferior centre section. What immediately catches the eye is the realist approach, the Jerusalem architecture resembles a Gothic skyline, the clothing and generic details like the swans reflected in the water are reproduced faithfully.

The series of scenes was intended to be viewed in a specific order. The left panel features a bottom-to-top sequence of, The Massacre of the Innocents, Herod’s Soldiers in Pursuit, the legendary Miracle of Growing Crops en route on the Holy Family’s escape, and The Flight into Egypt. On the right panel we see Jesus’ Entry into Jerusalem and Jesus Driving Out the Money Changers from the Temple. When the altarpiece is closed it reveals the Passion of Christ.

With the benefactors of this altarpiece being members of a clerical brotherhood, the centre section features scenes depicting the duties of priests. From the top down, we see the apostles bearing bread from the city of Sychar and the baptism in the Jordan river, and further down, Jesus and the Samaritan Woman at the Well. Jesus referred to himself as the Water of Life and the Messiah-Saviour. The bread and water form a symbolic axis in the altarpiece to underscore the clergy’s fundamental duty of performing the sacrament. Their function as preachers is reflected on the left side, in the scene where the twelve-year-old Jesus preaches to the Jewish scholars. Meanwhile, the temptation of Christ depicted on the other side refers to the ministerial work of priests in the fight against temptation, by way of which the clergy uphold the purity of the Church.


  • Title: Jerusalem Triptych
  • Creator: Netherlandish or Northern German painter
  • Date: ca. 1497–1500
  • Location: Gdańsk, Poland
  • Provenance: From Church of Our Lady in Gdańsk
  • Physical Dimensions: w197.4 x h138.5 x d4.7 cm
  • Inv. no.: Śr.38 NMW
  • Type: Paintings
  • Medium: oak wood panels

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