LONDON – Two recent exhibitions devoted to Jan Gossaert at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the National Gallery in London displayed a substantial proportion of his surviving works and allowed a wider public to appreciate the extraordinary genius of this great Renaissance artist. This beautifully preserved Madonna and Child, which hung in the National Gallery in London on loan since 1993, was itself included in the landmark Jan Gossaert exhibition.

A point, eloquently made in the exhibition – that Gossaert was the first Netherlandish painter fully to embrace Italian Renaissance modes of depiction – had been noticed even, in the artist’s own century, by Lodovico Guicciardini and Giorgio Vasari in the 1560s, and shortly after by Karel van Mander. The rich tones of blue that he used lavishly in many of his paintings and in all of his Madonnas brings to mind the Renaissance painters in Florence and Venice, and, of course, Albrecht Dürer, who himself admired Gossaert’s work at first hand in Middelburg, following his own transformative Venetian experience.


Gossaert only visited Italy once, probably for little more than a few months in 1509, but his visit there as part of the entourage of Philip of Burgundy on his delegation to Pope Julius II in Rome enabled him to study and draw the monuments of Antiquity and to familiarise himself with the achievements of the artists of the High Renaissance. His Roman experience was seminal in forming his own classicizing style, and was to change the course of art in the Netherlands. It was not, however, his only exposure to High Renaissance art. From 1506 onwards, Michelangelo’s Bruges Madonna was in the Onze-Lieve Vrouwekerk in Bruges, and Gossaert would have seen it there. Gossaert painted The Virgin and Child sufficiently often that this must have been a subject that had a particular resonance for him, as well as a particular appeal for his patrons. There is no doubt that in these works Gossaert was consciously reinterpreting the Italian Renaissance tradition of depicting the Madonna and Child. It is, however, the earlier pictures in the sequence of works, such as the present example, that are the most Italianate.