The Triptych of the Incarnation

Triptych of the Incarnation (c. 1510 - 1515) by Attributed to Joos Van Cleve and his collaboratorsMuseu de Arte Sacra do Funchal


Coming from the Church of Encarnação built in the 19th century, when the Republic was implanted in Portugal, the temple was stripped of its artistic contents and the Triptych of the Incarnation transferred to another church on the island.

On that occasion and for this purpose it suffered the mutilations that are still visible today thanks to the restoration that underwent. In 1955 it incorporated the collection of the Sacred Art Museum of Funchal.

The iconographic program presents, in the extension of the 3 panels, when opened, an extensive illustration of the theme Incarnation of the Verb: the pure conception of Mary, in the left panel...

The Annunciation and the Mystery of the Incarnation, in the central panel...

And the Birth of Jesus in the right panel.

The Meeting at the Golden Gate 

The Encounter at the Golden Gate, a very popular theme at the end of the Middle Ages, starring Saint Joachim and Saint Anne, parents of the Virgin Mary, represents the theme of Mary's immaculate conception.

In this detail, we can observe a micronarrative of the same altarpiece, representing the episode of the Prodigious Birth Announcement of Mary, by the Angel to Joachim.

Springing from a stem that rises from the parent couple flowers Mary, holding her child in her lap, in a condensed version of the Tree of Jesse. Being crowned by angels she illustrates the motto Virga Jesse floruit, Virgo Deum genuit

Annunciation and the Mystery of the Incarnation

The main scene appears framed by a kind of portico of late Gothic configuration, but denouncing the contamination of classical taste, namely in the capitals and the bases of the porphyry columns, the same can be observed in the back window and in the canopy column of the bed. The virgin is seated at the foot of the bed on a seat covered by the curtains of the bed's canopy, on a Persian rug.

Next to it is a shelf-closet, or a pseudo-kneeler, with an open book on top. A phylacter hangs from this book in which the prophecy of Isaiah (7,14) is read, on which, according to tradition, Mary was meditating when the episode of the Annunciation took place.

In the foreground stands the perspective floor of the room, in whose pattern appears the crowned double-headed eagle of the Habsburgs, ruling family at the time, in Germany, Spain and the Netherlands. Between the Virgin and the Angel is the traditional vase of lilies alluding to the purity of Mary.

It reads, next to the mouthpiece, the word “ANNO”, with a representation of the radiant Sun-Boy represented in the bulge, an allusion to the “year zero” of Grace that begins the era of Christ.

The Angelic Salutation takes on specific characteristics that guide the spectator towards understanding the deep meaning of the Mystery of the Incarnation. Maria's attitude reveals that the painter's intention was to underline not only the greeting, but also the Incarnation.

This symbology is reinforced by highlighting her auditory sense, leaving her right ear uncovered, citing the Conceptio per aurem, that is, the conception of Jesus through the auditory path, through which, according to a theological theory very in vogue at the end of the Middle Age, the Incarnation took place. The half-closed eyes show her acceptance.

In the sign that hangs on the head of the bed, like a reliquary, you can see a representation, with refinements of goldsmithing, of the episode of the Sacrifice of Isaac, an allusion to the First Covenant established by God with Abraham and the chosen people.

Still in the central panel, the upper register is dominated by the appearance of the Eternal Father framed by clouds.

Credits: Story

Liliana Melim

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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