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Entries in Flemish Art (5)


Van Dyck: Formality and Casualness in Perfect Harmony

Sir Anthony van Dyck - Entry of Christ into Jerusalem - c. 1617 - Oil on canvas, 151 x 229 cm - Museum of Art, Indianapolis (click photo for larger image)Sir Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641) was a Flemish Baroque painter who was one of the most important and prolific portraitists of the 17th century. He is also considered to be one of the most brilliant colorists in the history of art. He set a new style for Flemish art and founded the English school of painting; the portraitists Sir Joshua Reynold and Thomas Gainsborough (both discussed elsewhere on What About Art?) of that school were his artistic heirs.

The work featured here is a youthful painting of the artist, created when he was a member of Peter Paul Rubens's workshop. (Rubens is discussed elsewhere on What About Art?) The picture was executed in the style of Rubens.

The subject matter is the first episode in what is known in Christianity as Passion Week (or Holy Week). It begins with Palm Sunday, when Christ entered Jerusalem. Over the course of the following week, he would be arrested, tortured and crucified—and then rise again from the dead on Easter Sunday.


Adoration of the Shepherds by Hugo van der Goes

Hugo van der Goes - Adoration of the Shepherds - 1476-79 - Oil on wood, 253 x 304 cm - Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence (click photo for larger image)Hugo van der Goes (ca. 1440-1482) was one of the greatest Flemish painters of the second half of the 15th century. His strange and melancholy genius found expression in religious works of profound but often disturbing spirituality. Van der Goes’ art, with its affinities to Mannerism and his tortured personality, have inspired a particularly sympathetic response to contemporary viewers.

The Adoration of the Shepherds featured today is the most important work by the greatest Netherlandish painter of the late 15th century. The painting has a unique historical and artistic significance. The altar was donated to the Florentine church of San Egidio by Tommaso Portinari, who since 1465 had been living in princely style in Bruges as manager of the Medici family's commercial interests. The central panel is flanked by two wings depicting other members of the Portinari family and the family's patron saints, with a grisaille Annunciation on their reverse.

From an artistic point of view, the differences between this work and those of the preceding generation, and earlier paintings by the same master, are astounding. While space and anatomy are easily mastered, they are no longer major themes of the composition, The infant Jesus lies within an aureole in an outdoor square, surrounded by his Mary and Joseph, clusters of angels and the worshipping shepherds. The more or less circular arrangement of the figures can be perceived equally in three-dimensional and two-dimensional terms. A certain impression of spatial depth is suggested by the figures' varying distances from the front of the picture and by the oblique line running from the Antique-style column beside Joseph in the left-hand foreground, through the manger with the ox and ass, and on through the buildings in the middle ground. Its logic is overthrown, however, as the artist reverts to the medieval system in which figures are portrayed on a scale directly related to their importance—the hierarchy of size. Thus the angels in the foreground are surprisingly small in comparison to Mary and Joseph - a contrast repeated in the sizes of the donors and saints portrayed in the wings.


Rogier Van Der Weyden: A Long Forgotten Master

Rogier van der Weyden - The Magdalene Reading - c. 1445 - Oil, transferred from wood to mahogany, 62x55 cm - National Gallery, London (click photo for larger image)Rogier van der Weyden (c. 1399 – 1464) was a Flemish painter who, with the possible exception of Jan van Eyck, was the most influential northern European artist of his time. Though most of his work was religious, he produced secular paintings (now lost) and some sensitive portraits. By the middle of the 19th century, his fame and art had all but been forgotten. Only through a meticulous research have scholars over the past century been able to reconstruct Rogier's work and restore his reputation as one of 15th-century Flanders' leading masters. 

This beautiful figure seated on a cushion reading a devotional book can be identified as Mary Magdalene by the jar at her side, in reference to the ointment with which she anointed Christ's feet (Luke 7:37-8). When the painting was cleaned in 1956 it was discovered that its dark uniform background, applied probably in the nineteenth century, had concealed the body of Saint Joseph holding a rosary, part of a window with a landscape view, and the foot and crimson drapery of another figure, identified as Saint John the Evangelist.


Jan Van Eyck: Both Famous and Innovative!

Jan van Eyck - The Ghent Altarpiece: The Holy Hermits - 1427-30 - Oil on wood, 148,6x53,9 cm - Cathedral of St Bavo, Ghent (click photo for larger image)Johannes de Eyck (c. 1395-c. 1441) was the Flemish painter who perfected the newly developed technique of oil painting. His naturalistic panel paintings, mostly portraits and religious subjects, made extensive use of disguised religious symbols. Van Eyck was the most famous and innovative Flemish painter of the 15th century.

Opposite to the Soldiers of Christ and the Just Judges on the magnificent Ghent Altarpiece are the Holy Hermits who have renounced the world.


Paul Bril - Flemish Baroque

Paul Bril - Fantastic Landscape - 1598 - Oil on copper, 21,3 x 29,2 cm - National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh (click photo for larger image)This small oil painting on copper depicts a landscape with ruins, and includes a gypsy woman and a blacksmith. It was a highly successful composition, which was reproduced with innumerable variations during the years that followed. Paul Bril (1554-1626) was a Flemish landscape painter who worked primarily in Rome. Although he painted frescoes, his fame derives from his easel paintings, which bridge the gap between the Flemish Mannerism of the 16th century and the idealized Italian landscapes of the 17th century.