The So-Called Soest Antependium, Westphalia or Cologne, around 1170
Art left out in the rain!
That may sound merely sensational, but it really did happen. Following the dissolution of the St Walburgis monastery in Soest during the 19th century, all of the paintings including this one were brought to the nearby Wiesenkirche church. The art historian Gustav Friedrich Waagen later reported: “Only two years ago all of these historical artefacts were still completely preserved, but after they had been rained on many times last year, they are more or less ruined. It was only with excruciating pain that I could look at the oldest picture, absolutely unique, and the one that had suffered the most”. To avoid further damage, this cultural treasure – which is, despite everything, still the oldest remaining painting on panel north of the Alps – was entrusted to the Westphalia Art Society for safe-keeping.
Despite the many blemishes, the artistic quality with its fine details and rich gilding is still consistent with that of a masterpiece. Christ Pantocrator is enthroned in the centre. Symbols of the four evangelists surround him: Man (Matthew), the Lion (Mark), the Ox (Luke) and the Eagle (John). John the Baptist stands to his left, as does the Church Father St Augustine, whose rules the monastery had been organised after since about 1166. To the right, Mary holds the seven spiritual gifts of the Holy Ghost. She is accompanied by the convent’s patron saint, the missionary St Walpurga.
Even today the image still carries a misleading title. Due to the circumstances in which it was found in 1822, it was identified as an Antependium, which covers the front of the altar. This panel however probably adorned the high altar.