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Entries in Netherlandish Art (15)


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.


Bosch: Diabolic Enterprises

Hieronymus Bosch - Triptych of Temptation of St Anthony - 1505-06 - Oil on panel, 131,5 x 119 cm (central), 131,5 x 53 cm (each wing) - Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon (click photo for larger image)The Temptation of Saint Anthony is one of the masterpieces of Early Netherlandish painter Hieronymus Bosch (c. 1450-1516) ( ). The diabolic enterprises represented in the triptych reach a climax in the central panel. Devils of all species, human and grotesque, arrive from all directions by land, water and air, to converge upon a ruined tomb in the center. On a platform before the tomb, an elegantly dressed pair have set up a table from which they dispense drink to their companions. Nearby, a woman wearing a large headdress and a gown with an extravagantly long train kneels at a parapet to offer a bowl to a figure opposite. Kneeling beside her, almost unnoticed, in the middle of this hellish activity, is Saint Anthony himself. He turns towards the viewer, his right hand raised in blessing. His gesture is echoed by Christ half-hidden in the depths of the tomb, which Anthony has converted into a chapel.


“The Adoration of the Magi”

Pieter Bruegel the Younger - “Adoration of the Magi” - 1600 - Oil on panel, 38 x 56 cm - Museo Correr, Venice (click photo for larger image)Pieter Bruegel the Elder - “Adoration of the Kings in the Snow” - 1567 - Tempera on panel, 35 x 55 cm - Oskar Reinhart Collection, Winterthur (click photo for larger image)

The son of the great Pieter Bruegel the Elder, (1525/30-1569), Pieter Bruegel the Younger, (1564-1638) produced rather superficial but invariably charming paintings based on his father's celebrated works. After a lapse of decades he revived these tender and moving scenes of peasant life, with their deep humanity and pragmatic realism. In Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s earlier interpretation of the same scene, the artist has presented it as a “natural event and the life of the people in a village in wintertime.” His (the Elder's) may well be the first painting in the history of European art to depict falling snow. Both of these paintings bring the Birth of Christ to the Netherlands.

Netherlandish painting; Northern Renaissance