The retable of the Passion in Ambierle

Brussels sculpted retables fitted with painted wings were very highly regarded throughout Europe. This retable has been in the Church of Saint-Martin in Ambierle, 150 km south of Beaune, since 1480. The casing displays the marks “au compas et rabot” of Brussels joiners.

The inscriptions on the wings establish that the retable was given by Michel de Chaugy, Philippe le Bon’s advisor and maître d’hôtel. Chaugy is presented by his patron saint, Michael, on the right wing; his wife is seen behind him and his parents are shown on the left side wings. Archive documents reveal that Chaugy, Coustain and Van der Weyden knew one another. The wings showing the donors clearly have affinities with those on the famous Last Judgement that Rogier had painted for the Hôtel-Dieu in Beaune.

The portrait of Michel de Chaugy is painted on a pewter support that was later fixed on the panel. He probably wished to see and approve of his portrait without having to travel to Van der Weyden’s studio. This technique was mostly used in Brussels and seems to have originated in the studio of Rogier van der Weyden.