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Identification and Creation

Object Number
Unidentified Artist
The Consecration of a Saint as Bishop
Other Titles
Former Title: The Installation of St. Nicholas as Bishop
Work Type
c. 1575-1600
Persistent Link

Physical Descriptions

Black ink and gray wash over traces of black chalk on cream antique laid paper; framing line in brown ink
actual: 25.8 x 30.0 cm (10 1/16 x 11 3/4 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • inscription: verso, center, graphite: f 18-15-
  • inscription: mount, inlay, upper right, brown ink: [symbol] : ge: [or se? or gl?]
  • inscription: mount, inlay, lower center, graphite: D.*V.1535.... [illegible]
  • watermark: none


Recorded Ownership History
[Christie's, London, December 9, 1982, lot 77], sold; [Vermeer Associates, Ltd., Brampton, Ontario], sold; to Harvard University Art Museums, 2003.

Published Text

Drawings from the Age of Bruegel, Rubens, and Rembrandt: The Complete Collection Online
Multiple authors
Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2017–)

Entry by Austeja Mackelaite, 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.1

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.2 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.3 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.4

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.5


1 For typical early examples see, for instance, Master of the Youth of Saint Romold, The Enthronement of St. Romold as Bishop of Dublin, oil on oak panel, 1145 × 713 mm, Dublin, National Gallery of Ireland, 1380; Master of Saint Augustine, Scenes from the Life of Saint Augustine of Hippo, oil paint, gold and silver on wood, 1378 × 1499 mm, New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 61.199; Dirck Jacobsz. Vellert (attr.), The Consecration of St. Nicholas, brown ink and gray wash on brown washed paper, 265 × 162 mm, Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, MB 1975/T 31 recto (PK); Pieter Coecke van Aelst, The Consecration of St. Nicholas as Bishop, 1537, brown and black ink with wash and red chalk, 413 × 540 mm, Vienna, Grafische Sammlung Albertina, 15122. For a discussion of the traditional iconography, see Christiaan Vogelaar, Netherlandish Fifteenth- and Sixteenth-Century Paintings in the National Gallery of Ireland: A Complete Catalogue (Dublin: National Gallery of Ireland, 1987), pp. 55–56; Ariane van Suchtelen, “Bisschopswijding van St. Nicolaas,” in Yvonne Bleyerveld et al., Nederlandse tekeningen uit de 15de en 16de eeuw, Boijmans Collection, 2012, (accessed November 28, 2017).

2 The story of the consecration of Saint Nicholas is told in The Golden Legend; see Jacobus de Voragine, The Golden Legend: Readings on the Saints, trans. William Granger Ryan (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2012), p. 22.

3 Georges Kiesel, Der heilige Willibrord im Zeugnis der bildenden Kunst: Ikonographie des Apostels der Niederlande mit Beiträgen zu seiner Kultgeschichte (Luxembourg: Sankt-Paulus-Druckerei, 1969), p. 53; Xander van Eck, Clandestine Splendor: Paintings for the Catholic Church in the Dutch Republic (Zwolle: Waanders Publishers, 2008), pp. 51–79. Although images of the consecration of Saint Willibrord are not common, the Harvard drawing shares a number of similarities with a small vignette included in a 1607 engraving by Jacob Matham, featuring scenes from the life of Saint Willibrord. Some of these commonalities include the closely cropped horizontal composition, the depiction of the architecture of the church and of the high altar, the placement of the pope, and the presence of the ferula-carrying cardinal and a clergyman holding a missal. See Léna Widerkehr in New Hollstein, Jacob Matham, part 1, no. 116, p. 238.

4 For the history of the pallium, see Steven A. Schoenig, Bonds of Wool: The Pallium and Papal Power in the Middle Ages (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2016). In an email to the author (March 26, 2018), Schoenig agreed with this interpretation of the Harvard drawing, though he noted that the band held by the angel lacks the decoration typically associated with the pallium.

5 In an email to the author, February 6, 2018.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, The Kate, Maurice R. and Melvin R. Seiden Special Purchase Fund in memory of Mary, Viscountess Eccles
Accession Year
Object Number
European and American Art

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Subjects and Contexts

  • Dutch, Flemish, & Netherlandish Drawings

Verification Level

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