Dieric Bouts (born ca. 1415 – 6 May 1475) was an Early Netherlandish painter. According to Karel van Mander in his Het Schilderboeck of 1604, Bouts was born in Haarlem and was mainly active in Leuven (Louvain), where he was city painter from 1468. Van Mander confused the issue by writing biographies of both “Dieric of Haarlem” and “Dieric of Leuven,” although he was referring to the same artist. The similarity of their last names also led to the confusion of Bouts with Hubrecht Stuerbout, a prominent sculptor in Leuven. Very little is actually known about Bouts’ early life, but he was greatly influenced by Jan van Eyck and by Rogier van der Weyden, under whom he may have studied. He is first documented in Leuven in 1457 and worked there until his death in 1475. Bouts was among the first northern painters to demonstrate the use of a single vanishing point (as illustrated in his Last Supper). His work has a certain primitive stiffness of drawing, and his figures are often disproportionately long and angular, but his pictures are highly expressive, well designed and rich in colour, with especially good landscape backgrounds.
The Last Supper is the central panel of Altarpiece of the Holy Sacrament, commissioned from Bouts by the Leuven Confraternity of the Holy Sacrament in 1464. All of the central room’s orthogonals (lines imagined to be behind and perpendicular to the picture plane that converge at a vanishing point) lead to a single vanishing point in the center of the mantelpiece above Christ’s head. However the small side room has its own vanishing point, and neither it nor the vanishing point of the main room falls on the horizon of the landscape seen through the windows. The Last Supper is the second dated work (after Petrus Christus’ Virgin and Child Enthroned with St. Jerome and St. Francis in Frankfurt, dated 1457) to display an understanding of Italian linear perspective.
Scholars also have noted that Bouts’s Last Supper was the first Flemish panel painting to depict the Last Supper. In this central panel, Bouts did not focus on the biblical narrative itself but instead presented Christ in the role of a priest performing the consecration of the Eucharistic host from the Catholic Mass. This contrasts strongly with other Last Supper depictions, which often focused on Judas’s betrayal or on Christ’s comforting of John. Bouts also added to the complexity of this image by including four servants (two in the window and two standing), all dressed in Flemish attire. Although once identified as the artist himself and his two sons, these servants are most likely portraits of the confraternity’s members responsible for commissioning the altarpiece. The Last Supper was the central part of the altarpiece in the St. Peter’s Church, Leuven.
The Altarpiece of the Holy Sacrament has four additional panels, two on each side. Because these were taken to the museums in Berlin and Munich in the 19th century, the reconstruction of the original altarpiece has been difficult. Today it is thought that the panel with Abraham and Melchizedek is above the Passover Feast on the left wing, while the Gathering of the Manna is above Elijiah and the Angel on the right wing. All of these are typological precursors to the Last Supper in the central panel.
After attaining the rank of city painter of Leuven in 1468, Bouts received a commission to paint two more works for the Town Hall. The first was an altarpiece of the Last Judgment (1468–70), which exists today only in the two wings with the Road to Paradise and the Fall of the Damned in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lille (France), and a fragmentary Bust of Christ from the central panel in the Nationalmuseum, Stockholm. After this, he turned to the larger commission for the Justice Panels (1470–75), which occupied him until his death in 1475. He completed one panel and began a second, both depicting the life of the 11th-century Holy Roman Emperor Otto III. These pieces can now be seen in the Brussels museum. The remaining two Justice Panels were never completed.
Two Boutsian works in the Alte Pinakothek in Munich have perplexed art historians. One is the so-called Pearl of Brabant Triptych, which writers as early as 1902 tried to separate from Bouts’ authentic works. Recent research seems to refute this attempt. The other is a pair of panels from an altarpiece depicting the Passion — respectively showing the Betrayal of Christ and the Resurrection. For a long time these were considered some of Bouts’ earliest works, but dendrochronological evidence now places them around the time of his death in 1475. Schone’s 1938 invention of a “Master of the Munich Betrayal” is a more appropriate attribution.