Triptych with the Life Story of Solomon by Master of the Salomon triptych

Master of the Salomon triptych

Triptych with the Life Story of Solomon, c.1521, Oil on panel, 107.5 x 77 cm, The Mauritshuis, The Hague, inv. 433, Courtesy of Mauritshuis, The Hague

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Hubris and Nemesis

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A later, simplified revision of Lucas van Leyden’s print of the Idolatry of Solomon was taken as the model for the main panel of this triptych, probably painted in Antwerp in the 1520s. No one has managed to identify the maker of the triptych, but we do know that its first owner was a wealthy peat farmer who may have commissioned it, as a lesson in fidelity, to celebrate a marriage.

In both versions of Lucas’s print, the idol to which Solomon pays such absurd attention is male, but here it has become female, raised up on a multi-tiered structure which is in turn dependent upon the efforts of a team of putti. The bronze figure has been exquisitely painted by our anonymous master, and, in fairness to Solomon, it is a fascinating object.

The left wing of the triptych represents the homage paid to Solomon by the Queen of Sheba. Spectacularly clad, she kneels to offer her host a beautiful vessel of gold, marking an important stage in Solomon’s worsening addiction to precious metals and stones. The visit was often imagined as a typological precedent of the Adoration of the Magi, as for example in the windows of King’s College Chapel in Cambridge, created by Flemish artists at a similar period to this work.

That link to Christ perhaps encouraged the painter of the triptych to invent, in the right wing, an iconographic novelty: the appearance to Solomon of the second person of the Trinity. The old King had already been visited twice by God in dreams and warned to remain loyal (1 Kings 3:5–15; 9:1–9). This third, waking appearance brought judgement:

Since this has been your mind and you have not kept my covenant and my statutes which I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you. (1 Kings 11:11)

God the Father remains hidden, and so it is Christ, Solomon’s antitype, who completes this three-part narrative of the great man’s hubris and nemesis.

 

References

Broos, Ben. Intimacies and Intrigues: History Painting in the Mauritshuis (The Hague: Mauritshuis, 1993), pp. 356–63

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