I, Albrect Dürer of Nuremberg painted myself thus, with undying color, at the age of twenty-eight years.
So says the writing on this one. Whether the color is “undying” we’ll see*. The painting is five hundred and eighteen years old.
What was going on with Northern Renaissance art? After a visit to the San Diego Art Museum, decided to buy myself a book about what SDMA calls “early Netherlandish art.”
This is the book that I got, and I love it and recommend it. Beautiful, readable, dense, one of the best art history books I’ve ever gotten into. Susie Nash is an expert on the Well of Moses, or Great Cross, at Dijon.
The Well of Moses was commissioned by Philip the Bold, who through his “brilliant marriage to the heiress Margaret of Flanders” brought that region into Duchy of Burgundy. Claus Sluter, the sculptor made the pleurants, “the Mourners of Dijon,” for the tomb of Philip. I saw these when they came through the Met years ago.
By the time Philip the Bold’s grandson, Philip the Good, was Duke of Burgundy, the Burgundian chunks of the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and northern France were rich, full of prospering towns with craftsmen of all kinds, and fledgling networks of banking and trade, and ancient churches and castles.
The gem may have been Bruges, kind of an international banking/trade center, the Hong Kong of its day(?)
in Bruges a clause in the carpenters’ and sculptors’ guild by-laws allowed craftsmen to work at night when “a sale or contract has been made with a merchant (whose) ship is there ready to sail.”
Gheeraert’s map of Bruges:
Between The Hundred Years’ War and a mad King, France was suffering. Paris had kind of gone to shit around 1420.
There were all kinds of wonderful and wild things being made in the Northern Renaissance: tapestries, illuminated books, glass and brass. Statues of the Christ Child with jointed arms. Says Nash:
The ability to dress sculpture and adapt it in various ways was also key to the popularity of life-size carved and painted Christ Child figures, which might have jointed arms and their own set of clothes, some of which survive today. These figures could be used for more intimate devotional activities. Textual sources from female convent communities concern the part played by these and similar figures of the Christ Child with its crib in contemplative and richly imaginative activities, during which the nun was encouraged to pick up the child, suckle it, and so on.
And so on.
Nash places a lot of this work in the context of a tradition of contemplation. You were supposed to really be staring at contemplating, say, Christ on the cross.
How about the works of Master W with Key?
As for the Dukes of Burgundy, the drama of their lives becomes vivid from even a barebones review of major incidents. John the Fearless, murdered on the bridge at Montereau, the monk presenting his skull to the King of France: “Sire, this is the hole through which England entered France.” Charles The Bold, lost in the freezing cold at Nancy, killed by Swiss mercenaries, his body found in a frozen river. Mary the Rich, and Margaret of Austria, killed by a shard of broken glass.
Dramatic centuries followed for this part of the world. So much of early Netherlandish // Northern Renaissance art was lost or destroyed. “A wave of iconoclasm swept the Netherlands,” and that was just the beginning. Nash has a great picture I can’t find online of the city gate of Berne, chopped up for firewood in 1865. The town halls of Brussels and Paris were both burnt, Tournai and Ypres were bombed and shelled. The Allies found the Ghent altarpiece in a salt mine.
Last one, from a prayer book made for Margaret Tudor, wife of James IV.
This is not Margaret receiving an actual vision of the Virgin – she was not known as a visionary and indeed was note even particularly devout, if her contemporary reputation is true: she famously requested, on her sickbed, to contemplate a parade of her best dresses instead of a crucifix.
The Northern Renaissance – they’re just like us!
* some controversy over the translation here. My Latin is rusty but I like “undying” or “everlasting” better than “appropriate.”
The first extant record of his life comes from the court of John of Bavaria at The Hague where, between 1422 and 1424, payments were made to Meyster Jan den malre (Master Jan the painter) who was then a court painter with the rank of valet de chambre, with at first one and then two assistants.
Did he have help from his older brother Hubert on this one?
The notes on his preparatory drawing for Portrait of Cardinal Niccolò Albergati are written in the Maasland dialect.
His motto, one of the first and still most distinctive signatures in art history, ALS IK KAN (“AS I CAN”), a pun on his name,
Van Eyck undertook a number of journeys on Philip the Duke of Burgundy’s behalf between 1426 and 1429, described in records as “secret” commissions, for which he was paid multiples of his annual salary. Their precise nature is still unknown, but they seem to involve his acting as envoy of the court. In 1426 he departed for “certain distant lands”, possibly to the Holy Land, a theory given weight by the topographical accuracy of Jerusalem in The Three Marys at the Tomb, a painting completed by members of his workshop c. 1440.
Though now some attribute this one to Hubert. (I dunno, not astounded myself by the topographical accuracy here.)
A better documented commission was the journey to Lisbon along with a group intended to prepare the ground for the Duke’s wedding to Isabella of Portugal. Van Eyck’s was tasked with painting the bride, so that the Duke could visualise her before their marriage. Because Portugal was ridden with plague, their court was itinerant and the Dutch party met them at the out of the way castle of Avis. Van Eyck spent nine months there, returning to the Netherlands with Isabella as a bride to be; the couple married on Christmas Day of 1429. The princess was probably not particularly attractive, and that is exactly how Van Eyck conveyed her in the now lost portrait.
Eyck’s own wife:
I was looking into Van Eyck because I was wondering, who did Hieronymous Bosch learn from?
“What’re they gonna have at the San Diego Museum of Art?” I said, sneering. “A statue of a fish taco? An exhibit of craft IPA labels? A fluorescent Jeep Wrangler? A Tony Gwynn jersey?*”
This had been my scoffer’s attitude. But on the website of SDMA I learnt that they have a painting by Hieronymous Bosch, The Arrest of Christ.
Seeing a close to 500 year old painting by a weirdo master seemed worth a short Uber.
I was really impressed with SDMA! Small, but packed with wonders. Something good everywhere. There was an exhibit of “Golden Age of Spain” art that I didn’t even bother with. (Usually I find I like the art that came right before the golden age?)
The wall placard attributes Christ Arrested to the Workshop of Hieronymous Bosch, not Bosch himself. And how about Madonna of the Roses, by Pseudo-Pier Francesco Fiorentino?
Or Portrait of a Man by an unknown Flemish artist (once attributed to Hans Memling):
Goya, You Who Cannot. (They must have a bunch more Goyas in storage).
11th century Sambander.
George Inness, Farm Landscape, Cattle in Pasture—Sunset, Nantucket
Thomas Hart Benton, After Many Days.
An untitled work by George Copeland Ault.
Giotto, God The Father with Angels.
Sunday Afternoon, Hughie Lee Smith.
In The Patio by Georgia O’Keefe.
Anyway. This was all a nice break from Comic-Con.
At Comic-Con I heard that the X-Men are coming back.
* cheers to Jeff K. for this last punchline.
Basquiat’s “Pink Elephant with Fire Engine,” depicting cartoonish images on yolk-colored background, hammered at 2.2 million pounds, falling short of the low estimate of 3 million pounds.
painted here by Philip James de Loutherbourg, who sounds cool as shit:
a Franco-British painter who became known for his large naval works, his elaborate set designs for London theatres, and his invention of a mechanical theatre called the “Eidophusikon”. He also had an interest in faith-healing and the occult and was a companion of the confidence-trickster Cagliostro.
stole that straight from Artnet.
The tale of who owns Vivian Maier’s work is interesting. Through some twists, John Maloof, the Chicago real estate developer (?) who found and bought most of the physical photos at a storage auction, does not at present own the copyright:
Until those heirs are determined, the Cook County Administrator will continue to serve as the supervisor of the Maier Estate.