Legend of Dionysius the Areopagite
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oil on canvas

98.5 cm x 72.5 cm

Dionysius the Areopagite was a judge at the judicial court in Athens known as the Areopagus. According to Acts ch. 17, v. 34, he was converted to Christianity by the preaching of the Apostle Paul. Legend has it that he was partly converted to Christianity by the inexplicable solar eclipse which coincided with the death of Christ on the cross. It is this scene that is depicted in the painting. Dionysius, on the right, is sitting at the table holding a compass. He is feverishly trying to find an explanation in tracts and with the help of scientific instruments. A man and a woman are arguing while the young man at the back points to the Calvary with his left hand, in the background on the right. Dionysius seems to be conversing with the skeleton, a personification of death. On the parchment under the hourglass we can read what he says. “Eclipse voor sijn tijt/en can ick niet verstaen/den grooten schepper lijt/oft alles vergaen/den aarde schut en beeft/den hemel lijdt gewelt/al wat daer adem heeft/heeft de natur ontstelt.” Death answers as follows: “tis deur myn mogentheyt/ dat godt hem in den noot/tot mensen salicheyt/gaf over aen de doot/maer siet den derden dach/sal hij verrijsen vrij/ en heersen met ontsach/daer weder over my/ 1681.” The painting is by the Antwerp master Peter Sion. It was purchased by the town of Diest in 1733, perhaps because St Dionysius (together with St Sulpitius) is patron of Diest’s principal church.

CC BY (Creative Commons 4.0)