CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Triptych by (Workshop of) Pieter Coecke van Aelst Discovered

A sixteenth-century painting from the workshop of Flemish artist Pieter Coecke van Aelst (1502-1550) has been identified in a private collection on the British Channel Island of Guernsey. The previously unknown triptych will be auctioned next month. The three panels depict the Adoration of the Magi, with Saint Joseph shown on the right panel and Balthazar on the left. The central panel depicts Caspar and Melchior with Mary and Jesus.

Circle or workshop of Pieter Coecke van Aelst, The Adoration of the Magi, 1500-50
Photo: Martel Maides Auctions

Coecke van Aelst was born in Aalst in 1502 and worked as a painter, sculptor, architect, designer, and translator. He joined the Guild of Saint Luke in Antwerp in 1527, where he received a number of commissions including the design of the stained glass windows at Antwerp Cathedral.

Coecke van Aelst maintained a large workshop with numerous assistants working under his direction. It is unclear whether this work was created by the artist, his assistants, or both. The BBC spoke to Jonathan Voak, a painting specialist at Martel Maides Auctions, who called the discovery ‘exceptional and unique’. Only a few sketches and no signed artwork remain of him today. According to Voak, the triptych bears a strong resemblance to other paintings attributed to Coecke van Aelst and is ”unique with its own peculiarities, not a copy or replica.” One such example is the integration of the wings into the central composition, which deviates from tradition. This new approach created symmetry and breadth and was widely used by artists in subsequent generations.