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Gossaert Renaissance art at the National Gallery.

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Sunday, 3rd April 2011 – David Franchi


It is an amazing exhibition with many visitors “Jan Gossaert’s Renaissance”, at the National Gallery, London, until the next 30th of May. He was one of the most influent artists of the Northern Renaissance. The National Gallery has one of the largest and finest collections of the Gossaert artworks in the world. A key Old Master, he changed the course of Flemish art. This is the first major exhibition dedicated to him in more than 45 years and it includes more than 80 works, bringing together many of his most important paintings with drawings, prints and contemporaneous sculptures. Artworks by contemporaries such as Albrecht Dürer, Jacopo de’ Barbari and Lucas van Leyden are included.

The Flemish painter Jan Gossaert born in 1478 and died the 1st October 1532. Not much is known from his early life. He was used to sign his works as Jan Mabuse (sometimes Jan Malbodius) the name he adopted from his birthplace, Maubeuge (nowadays in France). However, when he matriculated in the guild of St. Luke, at Antwerp, in 1503, he called himself Jennyn van Hennegouwe (Hainaut, in French).

 Today the heterogeneous territory of the Low Countries is distributed between the modern states of Belgium, France, Luxembourg, Germany and The Netherlands. The Flemish cities of Bruges and Ghent were major centres of international economy and art. Therefore, Flemish and Netherlandish (which means “of the Low Countries”) became interchangeable terms. Moreover, art historians often include within the same context the artistic traditions of the Lower Rhine, especially Cologne, and the painters with French origins.

The Northern Renaissance begins around the 1420s and ends around 1520s. Painters active during that period in the Low Countries are named ‘Early Netherlandish’, also known in a variety of ways, e.g. ‘Late Gothic’ or ‘Flemish Primitives’.

The new style emerged in Flanders almost simultaneously with the Italian Renaissance; Italians working in the Low Countries connected the two areas. However, changes in Italy were in architecture, sculpture and philosophy, in Netherlandish were restricted to painting.

Gossaert_X6424.prLike in Florence and other Italian cities, the presence of the Burgundian court allowed artists to flourish. From 1507 to 1530 the Low Countries were ruled by Margaret of Austria (daughter of Maximilian I, the Holy Roman Emperor), Governor of the Habsburg Netherlands, and guardian of her young nephew Charles (the future Emperor, Charles V). Her reign was a period of relative peace and prosperity. Margaret was a keen patroness of the arts and an artist herself. She died at her court in Mechelen.

After a residence of a few years at Antwerp, Gossaert took service with Philip of Burgundy, bastard of Philip the Good, who was Lord of Somerdyk, Admiral of the Netherlands and Bishop of Utrecht. In 1508–9 Gossaert went to the Vatican following his patron on a diplomatic mission. There he met the Italian Renaissance. He firstly introduced it into the Low Countries, making an important art revolution. However, this stupendous exhibition at the National Gallery shows not only the Italianate elements but also Gossaert’s terrific creativity.

In 1509, Philip of Burgundy retired in his castle of Souburg (Zeeland), dedicating to decorate it with works of Jacopo de’ Barbari and Gossaert. In 1509-17 Gossaert is registered in Middelburg. In 1517-24 he is at Duurstede Castle. From 1524 onwards, he returned to Middelburg as court painter to Adolf of Burgundy.


“Jan Gossaert’s Renaissance”, through outlining the key themes of this artist, narrates a piece of history. It is not simply related to Gossaert himself but it describes that historical period, the birth of the Northern Renaissance, the connection with Italy, the history of a territory, its economy, and its culture.

The exhibition contextualise Gossaert in his time and through the artworks illustrates that period. The first room, in fact, is titled “Gossaert and the Renaissance in the Low Countries” here notably ‘Sheet with a study after the Spinario and other sculptures’ (1509).

The second room is titled “Gossaert the painter: new approaches to traditional subjects”. The story of Adam and Eve fascinated Gossaert, as well as the Gothic tradition and architectural motifs. Therefore, here remarkably are ‘Adam and Eve’ (about 1510), the unequalled ‘Adam and Eve’ (about 1520) and the famous ‘The adoration of the kings’ (1510-15). Another highlight of the exhibition is the reuniting of the triptych for the first time since it was painted in 1509–10 with centre panel ‘Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane’ and its exterior wings ‘Saint Jerome Penitent’.

A particular room is the third, “The erotic nude”, where there are Gossaert’s most persuasive paintings of mythological nudes, like ‘Hercules and Deianeira’ (1530). Philip of Burgundy commissioned mythological paintings such as ‘Salmacis and Hermaphrodite’ (about 1517) and ‘Venus’ (about 1521).

Gossaert was one of the greatest portraitists of the Renaissance. The fourth room, “Portraits”, will showcase his amazing ability to represent the lifelike appearance and psychology of individuals. Here outstandingly are ‘Portrait of a man (Jan Jacobsz Snoek?)’ (1530) and ‘The three children of Christian II of Denmark’ (1526). His ‘Portrait of Henry III of Nassau’ (about 1520–25) highlights even further the ‘trompe l’oeil’ effect another ability of Gossaert.

“Gossaert as painter and designer: devotional subjects” is the title of the fifth gallery. He painted devotional subject throughout his career, making them distinctive through his mastery. Here is notably ‘Saint Luke painting the Virgin’ (1520-2).

The last room “The Virgin and Child” explores a series of paintings with this very common subject. Featured works include ‘Virgin and Child’ (about 1527), and the exquisite and fine ‘Virgin and Child’ (about 1525).

The exhibition celebrates Gossaert’s decisive role as an artistic pioneer, bridging the gap between the Northern and Southern Renaissances.

“Jan Gossaert’s Renaissance” is organised by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and the National Gallery, London. The exhibition in London is curated by Dr. Susan Foister, Deputy Director and Director of Collections at the National Gallery and it is supported by the Flemish Government.

Published for: www.italoeuropeo.com

Direct link: http://www.italoeuropeo.com/entertaiment/arts/gossaert-renaissance-art-at-the-national-gallery./


Written by davidfranchi

April 5, 2011 at 3:39 pm

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