Martyrdom of Saint Hippolytus

about 1490-1500
Unidentified Artist, Flemish, 15th century


Overall (Center Panel, unframed): 87.6 x 133.7 cm (34 1/2 x 52 5/8 in.) Other (Right wing, unframed): 87.6 x 59.7 cm (34 1/2 x 23 1/2 in.) Other (Left wing, unframed): 87.6 x 59.7cm (34 1/2 x 23 1/2in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Tempera and oil on panel

On View

William A. Coolidge Gallery (Gallery 243A)





Hippolytus, a Roman soldier, converted to Christianity upon witnessing the martyrdom of Saint Laurence. After Hippolytus refused to renounce his new faith, the Romans drew and quartered him. Triptychs, three-paneled altarpieces, were the norm throughout northern Europe, but artists most frequently presented a separate scene on each of the three parts. Here, by spreading the scene of torture across all three panels, the artist heightened the drama, emotional fervor, and horror of Hippolytus’s stretched and tortured body.


About 1490, Hippolyte de Berthoz (d. 1503) (original commission) [see note 1]. 1888, Émile Gavet (b. 1830 - d. 1904), Paris; December 1888, sold from the Émile Gavet collection to Lucien Félix Claude-Lafontaine (b. 1840 -d. 1909), Paris [see note 2]; by inheritance to his daughter, Mme. Jean Emmanuel Marie Bès de Berc (d. 1961), Paris; April 11, 1962, posthumous Bès de Berc sale, Palais Galliera, Paris, lot 14, to Rosenberg and Stiebel, New York; 1963, sold by Rosenberg and Stiebel to the MFA. (Accession Date: May 16, 1963)

[1] Hippolyte de Berthoz was financial advisor at the court of Burgundy, serving under Charles the Bold, Margaret of York, and Philip the Fair. He commemorated himself and his wife, Elisabeth Hugheins, with their joint coats-of-arms on each of the outer wings of this triptych and with the presence of their patron saints, Hippolytus and Elizabeth of Hungary, on the outer right wing. The triptych may have been commissioned for the church of Saint-Hippolyte, Poligny, the patron's home town. For more information on this work as well as the triptych that served as its model (Bruges, Saint-Sauveur), see Christiane Van den Bergen-Pantens, "Etude et datation du Triptyque de Saint Hippolyte (Cathédrale Saint-Sauveur à Bruges)," in Bouts Studies, Proceedings of the International Colloquium (Leuven, 26-28 November 1998), ed. Bert Cardon et al. (Leuven, 2001), 11-18 and Didier Martens, "Un témoin méconnu de la peinture Bruxelloise de la fin du Moyen Age: le triptyque de Saint Hippolyte au Musée des Beaux-Arts de Boston," Revue Belge d'Archéologie et d'Histoire de l'art 69 (2000): 59-112.

[2] The provenance of the painting from 1888 to 1962 is provided in a letter from Olivier Bès de Berc to Perry T. Rathbone of the MFA (September 21, 1963).

Credit Line

Walter M. Cabot Fund