Jan Gossaert, called Mabuse
- Jan Gossaert, called Mabuse
- The Virgin and Child
- oil on oak panel
- 38.9 by 26.6 cm.; 15 3/8 by 10 1/2 in.
Richard von Kaufmann (circa 1850–1908), Berlin, by whom acquired in 1902;
By inheritance to his widow;
The Richard von Kaufmann sale, Berlin, Paul Cassirer, 4ff December 1917, lot 92, as painted circa 1520, in its original frame;
Eduard Simon (1864–1929), Berlin;
His sale, Berlin, Cassirer & Helbing, 10–11 October 1929, lot 24;
Dr. Wolfgang Huck, Berlin, by 1930, and probably acquired at the Simon sale;
Thence by descent to the present owner.
Rotterdam, Museum Boymans, Jeroen Bosch. Van Geertgen tot Scorel. Noord-nederlandsche primitieven, 10 July – 15 October 1936, no. 107;
London, National Gallery, on loan from 1993 to December 2012 (inv. L650);
London, National Gallery, Jan Gossaert’s Renaissance, 23 February – 30 May 2011, no. 13.
E. Weisz, Jan Gossart gen. Mabuse, sein Leven und seine Werke…, Parchim in M. 1913, p. 118, reproduced plate XII, no. 33 (originally presented as Doctoral Diss., 1912);
M.J. Friedländer, Die altniederländische Malerei, vol. VIII, Berlin & Leiden 1930, p. 156, no. 30, reproduced plate XXVIII;
G. von der Osten, in M. Meiss (ed.), 'Studien zu Jan Gossaert,’ in De artibus opuscula XL, Essays in Honor of Erwin Panofsky, New York 1961, vol. I, pp. 454, 469;
S. Herzog, Jan Gossart called Mabuse (ca. 1478–1532): A Study of His Chronology with a Catalogue of His Works, Doctoral Diss., Bryn Mawr 1968, pp. 286–87, no. 38, as datable circa 1525–30;
M.J. Friedländer, Early Netherlandish Painting, vol. VIII, Leiden 1972, p. 94, no. 30, reproduced plate 32;
National Gallery Report, London 1994, pp. 20–21;
M. Wolff, in M. Wolff (ed.), Northern European and Spanish Paintings before 1600 in the Art Institute of Chicago: A Catalogue of the Collection, New Haven & London 2008, p. 231;
L. Campbell, in M.W. Ainsworth (ed.), Man, Myth, and Sensual Pleasure. Jan Gossart’s Renaissance, New Haven & London 2010, pp. 164–66, no. 13, reproduced p. 165, as datable circa 1520.
The present beautifully preserved Madonna and Child, which hung in the National Gallery in London on loan since 1993, was included in the landmark Jan Gossaert exhibition there, where it was displayed in the company of other depictions of the Madonna and Child from the 1520s and '30s, one of only two such remaining in private hands.4 Max Friedländer, the first scholar to write about the picture, and Lorne Campbell, the most recent, date it circa 1520.5 Sadja Herzog dated it to the second half of the 1520s, but the consensus among latter-day scholars is for the earlier dating.6 Campbell compares it with the Carondelet Diptych, of which the right hand panel depicts the Madonna and Child, which is dated 1517 (fig. 3).7 The facial type of the Virgin in both works is noticeably similar, while the figure of the Christ Child is different.
Gossaert was in Italy only 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, perhaps the first Northern artist to do so, as well as to familiarise himself with the achievements of the contemporary artists of the High Renaissance. Given the brevity of his stay in Rome, his activity must have been febrile.8 He was fortunate that his humanist patron Philip of Burgundy was intensely interested in what they both saw. As Philip’s biographer Gerard Geldenhouwer wrote in 1529, 'Nothing pleased him more when he was in Rome than those sacred monuments of antiquity which he commissioned from the distinguished artist Jan Gossart of Maubeuge to depict for him'.9 A number of drawings done by Gossaert in Rome survive. 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 must have seen it there (see fig. 1). As Lorne Campbell noted, the present Virgin and the Christ-Child, though not the overall composition, bear some resemblance to their counterparts in Michelangelo’s sculpture, especially in the countenance of the Madonna and the contrapposto of the Christ Child, which Gossaert has further exaggerated.10 Elsewhere, Gossaert’s experience of Italian Renaissance sculpture was likely to have been as important an influence on him as painting, both compositionally, and in the remarkable extent to which he used faux-carved settings for his paintings, both architectural and sculptural.11
Gossaert painted the Virgin and Child sufficiently often that this must have been a subject that had a particular resonance for the artist, as well as a particular appeal for his patrons. They are typically small-scale works on panels generally less than 50 by 35 cms., some with arched tops, and the figures generally fill the picture plane in a way that was unusual among Netherlandish artists.12 Although the dating of individual works is still a matter of debate, there is a measurable development over the course of the last decade or so of Gossaert’s life, which is the span of their creation. In earlier works such as this one, and the work also of circa 1520 in the Mauritshuis, The Hague, and the one of circa 1522 in the Landesmuseum, Münster, the figures are set before a plain background, with traces of marbling like the present work.13 In the Mauritshuis picture the Christ Child appears somewhat lively, as in the present picture, and the Virgin is also resting Him on a carpeted table-top set at an angle. In later treatments of the subject, such as the work in the Prado, Madrid, of circa 1527, and one in a private collection of circa 1530, Gossaert sets the Virgin and Child before elaborate architectural settings, using both classical and high gothic styles, while in a work of the second half of the 1520s in Berlin, Gemäldegalerie, Gossaert places them before a trompe l’œil frame.14 In the last of the sequence, a work dated 1531 in Cleveland, Gossaert placed the Virgin and Child before a landscape.15
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. The later ones evolve towards a highly distinctive but more Northern pictorial mode: the Cleveland work – the last of them all – was clearly influenced by Albrecht Dürer in the pose of the Virgin and by contemporary artists in The Netherlands such as Joachim Patinir and his followers in the choice of a landscape background and its manner of depiction.
Although closely associated with Philip of Burgundy, who helped him procure commissions, Gossaert was not continuously employed as a Court Painter in the official sense, and worked as an independent artist. Although based in Middelburg, he travelled often to execute commissions, and seems not to have operated with an established workshop. On a modern map, Middelburg appears relatively isolated, on the tip of the most remote of the islands of Zeeland, linked to the rest of the Netherlands only by modern causeways and bridges carrying roads and railways. When in the 16th and 17th centuries sea routes were swifter and more reliable than overland travel across waterlogged and boggy country divided by rivers and undrained swamps, its isolation was less of a reality, and it was easily reached from Antwerp, Ghent and Bruges, where Gerard David, with whose works Gossaert seems to have been familiar, lived, and where Gossaert himself may have been active in the second decade of the 16th century. From 1517 onwards, Gossaert seems to have spent some time, probably intermittently, at Philip of Burgundy’s residence at Wijk bij Duurstede, near Utrecht, where Philip had been elected bishop. He also seems to have spent time at Mechelen (Malines), and was summoned there in 1523 by Margaret of Austria. Thus, even assuming a dating for the present work of circa 1520, it is not possible to suggest with any degree of confidence where it was painted. Following Philip of Burgundy’s death in 1524, Gossaert went to work for Philip’s great-nephew Adolf of Burgundy, Admiral of Zeeland at Veere in Zeeland, not far from Middelburg, but the present work is likely to be earlier than that.
As Lorne Campbell noted, this picture may well have formed the left wing of a diptych.16 The Christ Child is looking out of the picture plane to the viewer’s right, perhaps regarding a donor on the right wing. No such wing has been identified with certainty, by Von der Osten, followed by Martha Wolff, suggested that it may have been the Portrait of a Monk in the Louvre, Paris (fig. 2).17 The Louvre panel is dated 1526, a little later than the current scholarly consensus for the present work, was painted in an engaged frame, and is slightly smaller than the present picture. Moreover, there is a noticeable lack of compositional synergy between the two works.
The panel, ground and paint layers
The support is a Baltic oak panel formed of two boards: one comprising most of the panel, and a narrower one barely 1.5 cm. wide at the left.18 This unusual structure suggests that the panel was probably originally larger, but if it was cut down, this was done before the painting was begun, since the painted surface ends before the present edges. Although a frame described as original is mentioned in the Von Kaufmann sale catalogue, the current frame is not original. There is no evidence to suggest that the painting was executed in an engaged frame. In common with several other of Gossaert’s Madonnas, the present panel has very little under-drawing. Over the chalk ground layer the priming of the panel is pinkish in tone, and comprises lead white with a little red lead. Red lead is also found in the tablecloth, mixed with red lake, vermilion and lead white. Fluorite is found in the upper layer of the background, mixed with the same pigments and black. The blue used in the Virgin’s robe is ultramarine of high quality and expense.
Note on Provenance
This painting is first recorded in an unidentified private collection in Bruges, before it was acquired at the very beginning of the 20th century by Richard von Kaufmann. The turn of the 20th century coincided with a rapid increase in interest in and the collecting of the work of the Flemish Primitives, among whose number Gossaert would have been included, despite his strong and ground-breaking links with Italian Renaissance art and his reflections of Classical antiquity. This revival of interest in late medieval and Renaissance art in the lands largely contained within the borders of the recently founded Kingdom of Belgium was marked by several influential exhibitions, including the landmark Les Primitifs Flamands in Bruges in 1902.
Thereafter the painting was in three succeeding distinguished Berlin collections. Richard von Kaufmann had started collecting before he moved from Aachen to Berlin in 1883, but thereafter he focussed on Italian Primitives and Renaissance painting, Flemish Primitives, and Early German paintings. He collected very few paintings made after the early 16th century, and to judge from the two-volume sale catalogue, he was extremely selective, since the paintings included in it are of an extraordinarily high level of quality. The painting then entered the collection of the second Berlin collector, Eduard Simon, an art collector and philanthropist who headed the family textile firm Gebrüder Simon, and was cousin of James Simon, another well-known collector. Eduard Simon concentrated on two areas of collecting: Renaissance painting and sculpture from both sides of the Alps, and French, Italian and English 18th-century painting. Like Von Kaufmann, Simon bought many works on the advice of Wilhelm von Bode, including the Porto detached frescoes by Tiepolo sold in these Rooms on 3 July 2013, lot 42. The present work by Gossaert would have been displayed in the villa that Simon had built in 1902 in Viktoriastrasse alongside Italian Renaissance masterpieces including a Botticelli Madonna and Child, and portraits by Bronzino and Bugiardini, and sculptures by Lorenzo Ghiberti and Andrea Riccio. Grateful for Von Bode’s advice, Simon donated many works to the Berlin museums, and the remainder of his collection was dispersed at auction following his sudden death in 1929. At the sale in 1929, or very soon after, the Gossaert was acquired by the Berlin (and later Munich) newspaper proprietor and publisher Wolfgang Huck (1889–1967), who had started collecting earlier in the decade. Like his father, Huck was intensely interested in theatre and music as well as art, and both notably backed Max Reinhardt. As a collector he was particularly interested in Early Netherlandish painting, owning for example the Joos van Cleve Virgin and Child with a Pear now in the Städel, Frankfurt, as well as the present work, which remains in the possession of a descendant.
1. See under Exhibited, New York 2010–11. Maryan Ainsworth, who organised the exhibition, chose to spell the artist’s name Gossart, following contemporary sources, as Weisz and Sadja Herzog had done. When the exhibition travelled to London the organisers chose to retain the spelling Gossaert more widely used in the present day, and retained here. He has often been referred to as Mabuse, after the city of Maubeuge then in the medieval county of Hainaut, and today in France; this may be due to the Latinized form of signature incorporating his birthplace that he used from 1516 onwards: Johannes Malbodius.
2. L. Guicciardini, Descrittione di M. Lodovico Guicciardini…, Antwerp 1567, p. 98; G. Vasari, Le vite de’ piu eccelenti pittori, scultori e architettori…, Florence 1568, ed. P. Barocchi, Florence 1978–85, vol. 7, p. 584; K. van Mander, Het Schilder-Boeck…, Haarlem 1604, ed H. Miedema, Doornspijk 1994–99, vol. I, 1994, pp. 160–61, fol. 225v., lines 3–7.
3. See M.W. Ainsworth, in M.W. Ainsworth (ed.), Man, Myth, and Sensual Pleasure. Jan Gossart’s Renaissance, New Haven & London 2010, p. 3.
4. The other, a recent rediscovery, is somewhat abraded following the removal of substantial overpaint; idem, p. 182, no. 19, reproduced.
5. See under Literature.
6. See under literature.
7. Paris, Louvre, inv. 1442 & 1443; see M.W. Ainsworth, op. cit., pp. 245–249, no. 40, reproduced.
8. The delegation visited Trent, Verona, Mantua and Florence. In Verona, Gossaert sketched music-making angels in Mantegna’s San Zeno Altarpiece.
9. See Ainsworth, op. cit., p. 11.
10. See Campbell under Literature, p. 166. The Bruges Madonna is reproduced p. 172, fig. 168.
11. While not suggesting it was a specific source for the artist, Maryan Ainsworth drew a comparison between Gossaert’s Virgin and Child in Münster and a marble relief by Benedetto da Maiano in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; see Ainsworth, op. cit., pp. 158–59, no. 11, reproduced and fig. 161.
12. Only the Prado work is larger than this.
13. Oil on panel, arched top, 25.3 by 19.6 cm. Royal Picture Gallery, Mauritshuis, The Hague (on loan from the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam), inv. 850; see Ainsworth, under Literature, pp. 154–57, no. 10, reproduced.
Oil on panel, arched top, 38.5 by 30 cm.; Landesmuseum, Münster, inv. 1959 WKV; idem, pp. 158–59, no. 11, reproduced.
14. Oil on panel, 63 by 50 cm. Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado, inv. 1930; idem, pp. 170–73, no. 16, reproduced. Oil on panel, 44.5 by 34 cm.; Private collection; idem, pp. 182–83, no. 19, reproduced. Oil on panel, 47.6 by 37.7 cm.; idem, pp. 168–70, no. 15, reproduced.
15. Oil on panel, 48.9 by 38.4 cm.; Cleveland, Ohio, The Cleveland Museum of Art, inv. CMA 1972.47; idem, pp. 184–86, no. 20, reproduced.
16. See Campbell under Literature, p. 166.
17. See under Literature. The Portrait of a Monk, oil on panel, 38.6 by 26.4 cm. (overall size), Paris, Louvre, inv. RF 23; see Ainsworth under Literature, pp. 270–72, no. 50, reproduced.
18. The information in the paragraph is taken from the technical investigation conducted prior to the New York exhibition; see Campbell, op. cit., p. 164.