completed April 03, 2018:
Scenes showing saints consecrated as bishops appear frequently in 15th- and 16th-century Netherlandish paintings, works on paper, and decorative arts, either in the context of a larger life cycle of a specific saint or as autonomous works of art. Traditionally, the saint is seated in front of the high altar, at the center of the composition, with bishops, monks, and other onlookers situated to either side of him, resulting in a frontal and highly symmetrical arrangement. A bishop, a pair of bishops, or a pope are depicted in the act of placing the mitre on the saint’s head.
The Harvard drawing departs from this compositional formula, yet includes many of its customary elements. At the center of the scene, a beardless priest, clothed in a chasuble, is seated on a chair in front of the high altar. The priest is seen in a three-quarter view, and his gaze is directed at the missal, held by a kneeling clergyman in front of him. To the left of the figure, the pope is shown crowning the saint with the mitre. Although the subject has been previously identified as the installation of Saint Nicholas as bishop, the presence of the pope, who did not participate in the consecration of that saint, makes this improbable. While secure identification of the saint here is hindered by the lack of specific attributes, it is notable that the scene corresponds closely with an episode from the life of Saint Willibrord (658–739), whose cult gained a strong following in the Low Countries at the turn of the 17th century. The first Archbishop of Utrecht, Willibrord was consecrated by Pope Sergius in November 695. According to medieval hagiographies, the pope also granted Willibrord the pallium immediately upon his consecration as the bishop in Rome, endowing him with the authority to establish the Catholic Church in Frisia. The angel, hovering in the upper right corner of the Harvard sheet, is shown holding this ecclesiastical vestment in his hands, emphasizing the elevated status of the saint as the archbishop, and thus lending further support to the identification of the figure in the Harvard drawing as Saint Willibrord.
While the heavy and highly linear application of gray wash appears somewhat unusual in the context of late 16th-century Netherlandish draftsmanship, the composition and the subject matter of the sheet suggest that it should be dated to that period. According to Yvonne Bleyerveld, the drawing is likely to have originated in Antwerp in the last quarter of the 16th century.