Charity after the Flood
The Rijksmuseum’s St Elizabeth and St Elizabeth’s Flood Altar Wings
This essay reconsiders the panels in the Rijksmuseum’s collection depicting the St Elizabeth’s Flood of 1421. When they were removed from the church, the panels – once the outsides of the two wings of an altarpiece – were taken out of their
original context, and the subsequent separation of the panels’ obverse and reverse further obscured the original arrangement. The image itself provides important clues to its meaning with visual references to images of the Deluge, Christ’s Passion and Last Judgement. Most importantly, the flood panels should be studied in close relation to the life of St Elizabeth of Hungary, once depicted on the inside of the wings. Painted several decades after the flood, the panels do not render the catastrophe realistically. Instead, the image focuses on charity after the flood disaster when Dordrecht gave shelter to the victims and so followed the virtuous example of St Elizabeth. As an image of Dordrecht’s charity, the flood panels perfectly fit the religious context of the Grote Kerk for which they were once designed.
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