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The Annunciation by Joos van Cleve  

Joos van Cleve - The Annunciation - ca. 1525 - Oil on panel, 86 x 80 cm - Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (click photo for larger image)Netherlandish painter Joos van Cleve (ca. 1480-1540) is known for his portraits of royalty and his religious paintings. He is now often identified with the “Master of the Death of the Virgin” although that isn’t our particular theme for the period of Advent (a season observed in many Christian churches as a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus). Joos’ work is facile, eclectic and conservative, and he generally altered his style only to agree with the changes in fashion. Nevertheless, he was a fine painter and a successful one. He entered the Antwerp guild as a master painter, and in 1520 he was appointed its dean. He received a number of commissions from Cologne, where he influenced the local school of painting.  

Joos’ painting of the Annunciation takes place in a fully furnished, sixteenth century bedchamber. There is a bed, a prie-dieu, a chair, a dresser, a sconce, a pewter dish and jug, a stone vase, a cloth, and a chandelier. Netherlandish painters had a remarkable ability to render works in extraordinary detail, without making the overall scene appear cluttered or overdone.

Here is the Met’s description of this exquisite painting:

Gabriel and Mary are presented within an elaborately furnished interior that would have been familiar to sixteenth-century viewers. However, most of the objects, arranged unobtrusively within the room, carry symbolic meaning. The altarpiece and the woodcut on the wall, for example, show Old Testament prophets as prefigurations of New Testament themes. Influenced by Italian art, Joos appropriated a new canon of beauty, a new repertory of rhetorical gesture, and a striking grace of movement in his figures.


Quote of the Day

“There is no must in art because art is free.” - Wassily Kandinsky


Christmas…and Art!

Fra Angelico - Archangel Gabriel Annunciate - 1431-33 - Tempera and gold on panel, 31 x 26 cm - Institute of Arts, Detroit (click photo for larger image)Fra Angelico - Virgin Mary Annunciate - 1431-33 - Tempera and gold on panel, 31 x 26 cm - Institute of Arts, Detroit (click photo for larger image)Throughout December What About Art? will be featuring works centered on the Christmas story—painted by the greatest masters in the history of art. Our first focus will be on the Annunciation, the announcement by the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary of her conception of Christ.

Florentine painter Fra Angelico (ca. 1400-1455) was a Dominican friar, originally named Guido di Pietro. Although in popular tradition he has been seen as “not an artist properly so-called but an inspired saint” (Ruskin), Angelico was in fact a highly professional artist, who was in touch with the most advanced developments in contemporary Florentine art. In later life he travelled extensively for prestigious commissions.

Fra Angelico combined the influence of the elegantly decorative International Gothic style with the more realistic style of such early Renaissance masters as the painter Masaccio and the sculptors Donatello and Ghiberti, all of whom worked in Florence. Fra Angelico's representation of devout facial expressions and his use of color to heighten emotion are particularly effective. You can read more about him on this site.

Two panels at the Institute of Arts in Detroit, Michigan represent the Annunciation at the moment when the angel Gabriel greets the Virgin. She responds in a gesture of humble acceptance, crossing her arms over her chest. In her right hand she holds a small red bound book. She has marked the place by her finger.

The original provenance and function of these two panels is uncertain. Though they are clearly fragments, it has never been ascertained whether they had been cut out of a larger composition, were the subsidiary part of an altarpiece, or constituted the wings of a diptych.

On another note, What About Art? wish a Happy Hanukkah to all of you celebrating this week!


Scenes from the Life of St. Nicholas 

Ambrogio Lorenzetti - Scenes of the Life of St. Nicholas - c. 1332 - Tempera on wood, 92 x 49 cm - Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence (click photo for larger image)Ambrogio Lorenzetti (c. 1290-c. 1348) was an Italian artist who ranks in importance with the greatest of the Italian Sienese painters. Only six documented works of Ambrogio, apparently covering a period of merely 13 years, have survived. They include four scenes from the Legend of St. Nicholas of Bari, the Good and Bad Government wall decorations of 1337–39 (discussed elsewhere on this site), and the signed and dated panels of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple (1342) and of the Annunciation (1344). The Sienese school was dominated by the stylized Byzantine tradition, which also embodied the dramatic quality of the Tuscan sculptor Giovanni Pisano and the naturalistic approach of the Florentine painter Giotto. Ambrogio’s work foreshadowed the art of the Renaissance.

The panel featured here came from the church of St. Procolo in Florence, where it was recorded by Giorgio Vasari. It was probably painted as side wing of a triptych which had a figure of St Nicholas in the central panel (now disappeared). Lorenzetti likely painted it during a second visit he made to Florence between 1327 and 1332. It’s also possible that the panels made up a tabernacle door.

As the story goes, St. Nicholas gave a dowry to three virgins. An impoverished nobleman was ready to prostitute his three daughters, because no one would accept them in marriage without dowries. To save them from such a dishonorable fate, St Nicholas threw each of them a bag full of gold through their window, on three consecutive nights.

St. Nicholas is also said to have performed miracles. In the top scene of the first panel (featured here), the Saint brings a dead boy back to life.


Did You Know?

After much disagreement by art historians, it is now accepted that Jan Van Eyck did have an older brother, Pictor Hubertus Eyck (Hubert), who worked with Jan on Adoration of the Lamb.