Sunday, 12 December 2010

Jan Gossaert's Renaissance

Jan Gossaert called Mabuse, Portrait of a Man (Jan Snoek?)
National Gallery of Art, Washington
Man, Myth and Sensual Pleasures: Jan Gossaert's Renaissance
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
6th October 2010 - 17th January 2011

The first major exhibition in forty-five years devoted to the Burgundian Netherlandish artist Jan Gossaert (ca. 1478-1532) brings together Gossaert's paintings, drawings, and prints and places them in the context of the art and artists that influenced his transformation from Late Gothic Mannerism to the new Renaissance mode. Gossaert was among the first northern artists to travel to Rome to make copies after antique sculpture and introduce historical and mythological subjects with erotic nude figures into the mainstream of northern painting. Most often credited with successfully assimilating Italian Renaissance style into northern European art of the early sixteenth century, he is the pivotal Old Master who changed the course of Flemish art from the medieval craft tradition of its founder, Jan van Eyck (ca. 1380/90–1441), and charted new territory that eventually led to the great age of Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640).

In the early sixteenth century, the Burgundian-Habsburg Netherlands—a geographical area that once encompassed present-day Belgium, Holland, and parts of Germany and France—experienced the rise of humanism, the birth of the Reformation, and constant struggles of territorial expansion among the ruling dynasties of Western Europe. The future Holy Roman Emperor Charles V was born in Ghent in 1500. After the untimely death of his father, Philip the Fair, in 1506, he was raised by his aunt, Margaret of Austria, governor-general and regent of the Netherlands, who held court in Mechelen. The economic power of Bruges was waning as Antwerp assumed new prominence, and artists traveled from place to place to establish a livelihood in the burgeoning art markets of the major Northern cities.
Jan Gossaert, St Luke Painting the Virgin
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
Among the most innovative artists of this period was Jan Gossaert (ca. 1478–1532), also known as Jenni Antwerpen, Jennin Gossaert, Mabuse, and Johannes Malbodius. The latter two of these sobriquets indicate his town of origin, Maubeuge, today in northern France. In 1503 Gossaert joined the painters' guild in Antwerp, where he trained two apprentices. His sojourn in Rome in 1508–9 in the entourage of Philip of Burgundy, illegitimate son of Duke Philip the Good, on a diplomatic mission to Pope Julius II, brought him fame.
Jan Gossaert, Venus
Pinacoteca dell'Accademia dei Concordi, Rovigo
He was one of the first Northern artists to experience first-hand the art of antiquity, to make drawings after Greek and Roman sculpture and monuments, and to assimilate this new awareness of the ancient world into his work. Gossaert was much heralded at the time for introducing to Northern art depictions of biblical and mythological subjects with nude figures. At the humanist courts where he worked—in particular, for Philip of Burgundy—he was lauded as the "Apelles of our age," comparing him to the most famous painter of antiquity. Influenced by his pivotal trip to Rome, Gossaert redirected the course of early Netherlandish painting from the legacy of its founder, Jan van Eyck, and charted new territory that eventually led to the great age of Peter Paul Rubens.

The current exhibition is the first reappraisal in more than forty-five years of the extraordinary achievements of this versatile master. Viewed in the context of his contemporary milieu, Gossaert is celebrated as an artist of unsurpassed skill and remarkable originality. Technical examinations of the majority of his works have informed a reconsideration of his innovations as a painter, draughtsman, and printmaker.

Jan Gossaert: Conservation Discoveries by the Met Museum

It is not easy to imagine exactly how Gossaert came to the attention of Philip of Burgundy, illegitimate son of Duke Philip the Good and admiral of the Burgundian navy. In any event, Gossaert found himself in an entourage of sixty men accompanying Philip on an important diplomatic mission at the behest of Margaret of Austria, regent of the Netherlands, to Pope Julius II in Rome. The group set out on October 26, 1508, and, having made stops in Trent, Verona, Mantua, and Florence along the way, arrived in Rome on January 14, 1509.
Jan Gossaert, Virgin and Child
Cleveland Museum of Art
The goal of the mission was to convince the pope to allow Burgundian rulers to appoint church offices in the Low Countries—a privilege that had been his alone. At hand was the risky matter of balancing power between the papacy and the Burgundian authorities. For this mission, Margaret chose Philip of Burgundy, a consummate diplomat with a humanist education, military accomplishments, and a keen interest in ancient architecture—also an interest of the pontiff's. Philip and Julius found common ground and delighted in each other's pursuits. Meanwhile, Gossaert was busy exploring the world of antiquity and recording it for himself and for Philip. (The surviving drawings from that trip are presented in the exhibition.) As Philip's secretary and chaplain Gerard Geldenhouwer wrote in his account of the mission: "Nothing pleased him [Philip] more when he was in Rome than those sacred monuments of antiquity that he commissioned the distinguished artist Jan Gossaert of Maubeuge to depict for him."
Jan Gossaert, Portrait of a Nobleman (Charles of Burgundy?)
Gemaeldegalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
Philip of Burgundy (1464–1524), with whom Gossaert had traveled to Rome, was particularly favoured by the Burgundian-Habsburg court. He was appointed to the important posts of Admiral of the Burgundian fleet (1502–17) and Bishop of Utrecht (1517–24). Beginning about 1515 he strove to establish a humanist court at each of his two castles—first at Souburg, on the Island of Walcheren, and then at Wijk bij Duurstede, near Utrecht. As Philip's court poet and biographer Gerard Geldenhouwer wrote, he invited such illustrious artists as the Venetian Jacopo de' Barbari and Jan Gossaert to Souburg to decorate his castle, calling them the "Zeuxis and Appelles of our time," a reference to the most heralded artists of antiquity.
Jan Gossaert, Hercules and Deianara
Barber Institute of Fine Arts, Birmingham
Working as Philip's court artist, Gossaert made numerous paintings of erotically charged mythological themes, such as Venus and Cupid, Hercules and Deianira, and Hermaphroditus and Salmacis. Among the most monumental and important of these works was Neptune and Amphitrite (Staatliche Museen zu Berlin), which Gossaert signed in 1516 for the first time using the Latinised form JOANNES MALBODIVS PINGEBAT. It is the earliest representation of the theme with colossal nude figures in Northern European painting. As admiral of the Burgundian fleet, Philip saw himself as Neptune, the god of the sea. By adding his signature and motto "More to come" in a seemingly impromptu script at the upper right, Philip identified himself with Neptune and with the art of antiquity, merging past and present.
Jan Gossaert, Virgin and Child
Museo del Prado, Madrid
Gossaert's exploration in paintings, drawings, and prints of the interaction of figures, including the heightened sensual relationship between them, was not restricted to the mythological subjects that he painted for humanist courts. In the 1520s, with themes such as the Virgin and Child and Adam and Eve, he began to develop compositional strategies for conceiving his figures in the round and projecting them into the viewer's space, occasionally using trompe l'oeil frames or nichelike architecture to set them off from the background. Often taking his inspiration from sculpture, Gossaert imbued his figures with a convincing volumetric form and, calling upon his mastery of the illusionistic properties of oil painting, mimicked the polished sheen of marble for flesh tones. Albrecht Dürer's prints were a source of inspiration for expressive figures, compositions, and the construction of the human form according to idealised proportions.
Jan Gossaert, Adam and Eve
Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid
The theme of Adam and Eve provided Gossaert with an opportunity to portray male and female nudes at almost lifesize scale in some of his paintings. Initially, Gossaert followed Dürer's staid approach, as in the latter's famous 1504 engraving, but he increasingly engaged in an exploration of the bold sensuality of the two figures entangled in lust and guilt. This interpretation must have seemed shockingly innovative in the 1520s, imparting a very human emphasis to the biblical story of the origin of sexual knowledge. The understanding of human anatomy that Gossaert developed for his representations of Adam and Eve as well as for his mythological themes suggests that he studied the nude after life, but no relevant drawings survive. No doubt his use of proportion studies such as those by Dürer and those described in book 3 of Vitruvius' De architectura (from the late first century B.C.) also informed his depictions.

(extracts from the official exhibition guide)
Jan Gossaert, Young Girl with Astronomic Instrument (Dorothea of Denmark?)
National Gallery, London

Jan Gossaert's Renaissance official exhibition site
Jan Mabuse Wikipedia page
Jan Gossaert at Web Gallery of Art

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