In the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, one of the great triumphs of Flemish illumination was its playful manipulation of illusionistic space. In the area at the bottom of this scene, two figures appear to kneel before an image of the celebration of Mass. At the left, an angel, standing behind a lit Paschal candle, parts red curtains to reveal the image. Its frame, however, overlaps the angel’s wings, putting the image—contrary to expectation—in front of the angel as well as the two worshippers. Is the image truly meant to be read as a suspended painting? Or is it meant to be an actual celebration, which readers of the manuscript are permitted to see through a trompe-l'oeil opening in the page?
Mass of the Five Wounds of Christ, “Da Costa Hours,” in Latin. Belgium, Ghent, ca. 1515, illuminated by Simon Bening, MS M.399, fol. 36v. Purchased by J. Pierpont Morgan, 1910.