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Entries in Netherlandish Art (17)


Hugo van der Goes: A Strange and Melancholy Genius

Hugo van der Goes - Monforte Altarpiece - c. 1470 - Oil on wood, 150 x 247 cm - Staatliche Museen, Berlin) (click photo for larger image)Early Netherlandish painting refers to the work of artists, sometimes known as the Flemish Primitives, active in the Burgundian and Habsburg Netherlands during the 15th- and 16th-century Northern Renaissance; especially in the flourishing cities of Bruges, Ghent, Tournai and Brussels. One of its great masters was Hugo van der Goes ( c. 1440-1482).

The most brilliant work from the early period of Van der Goes is the Monforte Altarpiece, named after the town in which it was housed, in a college belonging to a group of Spanish Jesuits. It was subsequently transferred to the Berlin museum. It is a large-scale triptych, of which only the central panel, a long horizontal rectangle, has survived to the present day. A group of hovering angels have been amputated from the top of the panel, and the two wings have disappeared. The theme of the surviving picture is the adoration of the Magi.

The Three Kings and their followers come upon the Virgin, the Holy Infant and Joseph amid the ruins of a palace. A group of villagers observe this extraordinary scene through a gap in the wall. The figures, both actors and witnesses, are all shown on the same scale, whether humble or magnificent. They are neither reticent nor exalted, but react to the event in their various ways, surprised or self-conscious. In the background we can see a few women, some cottages and a river besides which the Kings' horses are waiting. In the foreground, symbolic flowers - the lily and columbine - and a pottery vessel are depicted with great care. A tiny squirrel is running along one of the beams above the opening through which the villagers observe the scene. Van der Goes has given free rein to his imagination, both in the composition and in his handling of paint, deploying the splendidly rich colors that are so characteristic of his art, mixing blazing reds with the most delicately nuanced shades.

You can read more about Hugo van der Goes right HERE on What About Art?


Jacob Cornelisz. Van Oostsanen - An Amsterdam Artist

Jacob Cornelisz. Van Oostsanen - Christ Appearing to Mary Magdalen as a Gardener - 1507 - Oil on oak, 55 x 39 cm - Staatliche Museen, Kasse (click photo for larger image)Jacob Cornelisz. Van Oostsanen (c. 1432 - 1533) was a Netherlandish painter who worked mainly in Amsterdam, where he was the leading designer of woodcuts. He liberated the Dutch woodcut from the miniature tradition and gave it a new power and breadth. Although his work is somewhat provincial, he marks the beginning of the great artistic tradition of Amsterdam, and his keenness of observation was to be one of the trademarks of later Dutch art. Of course, he was also a painter.

In the foreground on the small wooden panel featured here, the artist shows a scene from the story of the Resurrection as recounted in St John's Gospel. Mary Magdalene meets the risen Christ and mistakes him for a gardener. When she recognizes him, she throws herself at his feet. Christ then speaks to her the words the artist has painted in artful Gothic lettering on the trim of his garment: 'Touch me not, Mary, for I am not yet ascended to my Father' (Maria noli me tangere - nondum enim ascendi ad patrem).

In the middle and far distance, integrated in a finely-detailed landscape, the painter shows four more episodes grouped around the central motif; the two Marys at the empty tomb, Jesus meeting the three Marys, his encounter with the pilgrims on the road to Emmaus, and the meal at Emmaus. In the artist's time and later, it was quite usual to group together a series of events on one single panel. It was also common to dress figues in contemporary garb.


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.


A Nativity by Juan de Flandes

Juan de Flandes - The Nativity - c. 1508-19 - Oil on panel, 111 x 79 cm - National Gallery of Art, Washington (click photo for larger image)The Web Gallery of Art tells us that “[t]he name by which Spanish documents refer to Juan de Flandes simply means John or Jan of Flanders. Juan is first recorded as working for Queen Isabel in 1496; two years later he is mentioned as her court artist.

Juan de Flandes (ca. 1465 - 1519) demonstrated a preference for clearly articulated space and refined color schemes. Characteristic of paintings from the city of Ghent, charming narrative vignettes frequently enlivened the backgrounds of Juan's pictures.

The Nativity is one of the six surviving panels of an altarpiece from the main chapel in the Church of San Lázaro, Palencia, in northern Castile.

Juan's Nativity, as with many religious scenes, amplifies a biblical episode with theological references. The Gospel of Luke writes that the baby was wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. Here, however, the child is naked and lies on his mother's robe upon the ground, implying that the son of god was poorer than the humblest son of man. The ox and ass, eating from the straw-filled manger, are not mentioned together in Luke. The Book of Isaiah, however, states that these beasts knew their master and his crib. Since a grain storage crib relates directly to Luke's feeding manger, early Christian scholars believed that Isaiah's prophesy was fulfilled when even the livestock would recognize Jesus as their master.

Meanwhile, illuminating the starry night, concentric rings of divine light emanate from the angel appearing to the shepherds on the distant hilltop. Perched on the ruined stable, an owl may refer to the nocturnal darkness dispelled by the coming of Christ.”


Van Eyck: The Arnolfini Marriage

Jan van Eyck - Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife 1434 - Oil on oak, 82 x 60 cm (32.3 x 23.6 in) National Gallery, London (click photo for larger image)"The Arnolfini Marriage" is a name that has been given to this untitled double portrait by Jan van Eyck (c. 1390-1441). It is one of the greatest celebrations of human mutuality. This painting reveals to us the inner meaning of a true marriage. Giovanni Arnolfini, a prosperous Italian banker who had settled in Bruges, and his wife Giovanna Cenami, stand side by side in the bridal chamber, facing towards the viewer. The husband is holding out his wife's hand. Despite the restricted space, the painter has contrived to surround them with a host of symbols. To the left, the oranges placed on the low table and the windowsill are a reminder of an original innocence, of an age before sin. Above the couple's heads, the candle that has been left burning in broad daylight on one of the branches of an ornate copper chandelier can be interpreted as the nuptial flame, or as the eye of God. The small dog in the foreground is an emblem of fidelity and love. Meanwhile, the marriage bed with its bright red curtains evokes the physical act of love which, according to Christian doctrine, is an essential part of the perfect union of man and wife.

Although all these different elements are highly charged with meaning, they are of secondary importance compared to the mirror, the focal point of the whole composition. It has often been noted that two tiny figures can be seen reflected in it, their image captured as they cross the threshold of the room. They are the painter himself and a young man, doubtless arriving to act as witnesses to the marriage. The essential point, however, is the fact that the convex mirror is able to absorb and reflect in a single image both the floor and the ceiling of the room, as well as the sky and the garden outside, both of which are otherwise barely visible through the side window. The mirror acts as a sort of hole in the texture of space. It sucks the entire visual world into itself, transforming it into a representation. The cubic space in which the Arnolfinis stand is a prefiguration of the techniques of perspective, which were still to come.