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Tag Archives: Flemish art

Object of the Month: January 2016

Tapestries on the Life of King Hezekiah: The Destruction of the Idols by Hezekiah, The Sacrifice of Hezekiah,  and Hezekiah’s Life Prolonged

Signed: unknown weaver’s mark (bottom right)

Woven wool  and silk tapestry

Designed by Jan Cornelisz. Vermeyen

Flanders, active 16th century

Woven by the Weaver of the Hezekiah Series (of the Royal Swedish Collection in Stockholm), also known as the Weaver of the Book of the Kings Series (of the Royal Collection in Vienna)

Brussels, c. 1530

Click on the links throughout the article to view additional artists’ works and reference material.
During these winter months, we turn up the thermostat, put on a sweater, or throw an extra blanket on the bed when the temperatures drop. Insulation, thermal-pane windows, and caulking keep our houses snug from winter’s chill.  But what if your home was a drafty castle with no warmth except near the fireplace? If you were wealthy enough, tapestries would provide some insulation to

keep the winter winds out and the meager warmth in. The tapestry’s portability was an added bonus. When one residence got particularly smelly or otherwise unsuitable, the artistic insulation could be rolled up and transported to the next home. Of course, we view tapestries today primarily as works of art, without much thought as to their original practical purposes.

When you step into the Lobby at the Museum & Gallery at Bob Jones University, some of the first works of art you encounter are three tapestries, each measuring 13 feet x 11.5 feet. They depict three scenes from the life of King Hezekiah, ruler of Judah in the 8th and early 7th centuries BC. The tapestries were produced in Brussels, Brabant (before Belgium existed as a country) in the early 16th century, and by the early 17th century they graced the walls of Somerset House in London, residence of Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of King Charles I. Since tapestries were considered the most valuable objects of their time, only royalty or the very wealthy would have owned them. With the beheading of Charles I, the tapestries became possessions of Cromwell’s Commonwealth. Later sales trace them to Spain and then New York. M&G acquired them in 1965.

The Bible records details of Hezekiah’s life in 2 Kings 18–20, Isaiah 36–39, and 2 Chronicles 29–32. As one of Israel’s moral, godly rulers, Hezekiah is depicted in the first two tapestries destroying idols and restoring temple sacrifices to draw his countrymen back to serving and worshiping the one true God genuinely, purely, and wholeheartedly. The third tapestry shows an incident where Hezekiah was gravely ill and requested a longer life from the Lord; God answered his prayer and miraculously healed him. The Latin phrases at the top of each tapestry describe the events of each pictured scene.

Anne Short, Volunteer Collection Researcher & Retired Docent

Published in 2016

Object of the Month: October 2015

Procession to Calvary 

Oil on panel

Master of the Holy Blood (Maître du Saint-Sang)

Flemish, active c. 1500

 

Click on the links throughout the article to view additional artists’ works and reference material.

The identity of the anonymous artist called the Master of the Holy Blood has remained a mystery since the first serious study on the artist by Georges Hulin de Loo in association with the 1902 Exposition de Tableau Flamands des XIVe, XVe et XVIe Siecles in Bruges. De Loo decided to name this anonymous artist after the location of the Lamentation Triptych in the Chapel of the Holy Blood in Bruges, where it has resided since its commission by the Brotherhood of the Holy Blood around 1530.

The general composition of the present Procession to Calvary relates to paintings of the same theme produced in the late fifteenth century, which likely derive from a lost original attributed to Jan van Eyck (best known for the Ghent Altarpiece).

In the upper middle portion of the painting, a Flemish city in the guise of Jerusalem recedes into space through the artist’s use of atmospheric perspective in gray-blue tones. A fantastical building meant to represent the Dome of the Rock rests in the foreground of the city scene while a smaller dome for the Church of the Holy Sepulcher rises on the right side.

Moving from the distant city are progressively closer views of medieval Flemish houses forming a backdrop to the large grouping of figures in the right middle-ground.

Three men on horseback and two soldiers standing behind them form the first figural group of the procession. Each horseman is dressed in oriental garb—a tradition stemming back to the Limbourg Brothers (learn more here) connecting eastern headgear with Jews. The pointed hat on the horseman at the far left is traditionally Jewish in type, whereas the second horseman’s turban has a large jewel on the front associated with Muslim caliphs. The man on the white horse also has a Muslim turban. Northern Renaissance painters used these costuming stereotypes to depict non-Christian characters such as Jews or Arabs. Artists such as the Master of the Holy Blood were not yet exposed to the documented cultures of the Greeks and Romans since such information had not reached the Netherlands in any significant way. Since Islamic culture was also foreign to these artists, any pagan (non-Christian) characters set in Biblical narratives were naively costumed as Muslim.

In the right foreground is a ruggedly dressed soldier armed with both a sword on his hip and a cane for beating Christ. Next to him an elderly man, representing Simon of Cyrene, helps take the weight of the cross from Christ as he falls. His gentle, caring look and effort to support the cross contrast sharply with the tormentors surrounding Christ. The next tormentor, dressed in a white tunic, pulls tight on a rope tied around Christ’s waist to increase His suffering and to prevent Him from resting from the grueling task. The opposite end of the rope falls to Christ’s side and terminates in an unusual object of torture—the spikeblock or stumbling block. Made of a thick plank of wood with nails pierced through, the spikeblock is shown upside down with the nails facing Christ. This unusual object, a Netherlandish invention, maintained a relatively popular appearance (in a variety of forms and types) in northern European art for about 150 years. The concept was intended to visualize the intensity and torture of Christ’s suffering: as Christ made His way to Calvary, the swinging block would wound His heels from behind and His shins from the front, and it would also trip Christ while carrying the cross, thus becoming a “stumbling block.”

The Procession to Calvary is undoubtedly one of the Master of the Holy Blood’s most accomplished works, revealing the trends, motifs, and stylistic hallmarks of an artist who is at once distinctive and also reflective of the influences around him in early sixteenth-century Antwerp and Bruges.

John M. Nolan, Curator

 

Published in 2015

Object of the Month: July 2015

St. Michael the Archangel and St. Agnes 

Oil on panel

Colijn de Coter

Flemish, c. 1455–d. 1538

 

Click on the links throughout the article to view additional artists’ works and reference material.

The construction of Colijn’s artistic career is based on three signed works, each representing the early, middle, and later phases of his style. Rogier van der Weyden’s compositional sense greatly influenced him, even though Colijn painted nearly half a century later. Colijn loved to explore the tactile qualities of the subjects he painted, while retaining the sculptural drapery effects characteristic of the art of this period. The influence of this artist’s works spread throughout his native Brussels in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries.

Here, St. Michael is richly dressed in priestly embroidered silk robes similar to those found in van der Weyden’s works. The highly decorative cope is rendered so carefully that seemingly every gold thread of the garment is visible. The front trim of the cope has various unidentifiable saints within architectural niches while an elaborate gold quatrefoil morse clasps the garment together. Because St. Michael was originally part of a wing panel, de Coter breaks from van der Weyden’s frontal model and faces the character to the right in a contrapposto position that takes up nearly the entire width and height of the panel. The animation of his twisting pose is graphically emphasized by the long cross-staff that he uses to defeat the demon. One hand balances and thrusts the symbolic weapon into the demon’s throat, causing the flesh of its neck to protrude. Two fingers of the other hand carefully hold a ring in the fulcrum of the scales of justice.

The objects being weighed in the scales are of particular interest. On the right is a tiny seraph, identified by its six wings, representing a soul. Although Michael’s efforts will successfully prevent the demon from pulling the soul down, the object in the left pan of the scale far outweighs the soul and tips the scale to keep the symbolic seraph aloft (and safe from hell). What is it that could be providing such power to raise the soul out of evil’s grasp? At first glance it seems as if it might be representing the blood of Christ in a shallow dish. I John 1:7 says, “…and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” Closer examination reveals an image painted into the red oval shape (with pointed ends) that portrays a figure with a tiered tiara wearing a cope with a cross staff held in the left hand, the right hand across the front in a blessing position, and an arched throne behind. A narrow band also runs around the outer edge with marks that appear to represent letters. Altogether, the imagery presented identifies this object as a red wax seal in a lead dish—a type used by numerous secular and ecclesiastic rulers at this time but closest in shape and image to seals of a bishop or an abbot.

The presence of an ecclesiastic seal on St. Michael’s scale is virtually unknown outside of this image. Use of wax seals were commonplace throughout Europe in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries and were used to validate acts or protect and validate documents that were executed under an official’s name. The implied meaning behind the seal’s efficacy to counterbalance the soul and keep it from going to hell is remarkable. Its presence either authenticates the seal owner’s power to save souls (on Christ’s behalf) or is meant to show a certain bishop or ecclesiastic’s validation for Christ’s payment for mankind’s sins (as evidenced by Michael’s cross-staff overcoming the demon’s efforts to claim the soul). The specific identity of the ecclesiastic office represented by the seal is not readily apparent in the present image. Nothing on the seal identifies a specific person who owns it. Perhaps the original panel(s) that belonged with the present wings provided more information on whose seal and authority is being promoted with this iconography.

The other figure on the fused panel represents St. Agnes dressed in gorgeous brocade and scarlet fabric. Agnes actively reads her book while holding her symbolic, name-sake lamb on a gold-chained leash. The finery of dress is particularly evident and provides a pleasing balance to the ecclesiastic garb of Michael. De Coter’s composition delicately balances the swayed poses of the two figures as each gently holds their respective objects—Michael’s scale and Agnes’s leash.

Although no original documents are known for the present work and little period archival documentation survives on the artist himself, de Coter remains one of the most important and prolific painters from the Renaissance in Brussels. St. Michael the Archangel and St. Agnes is among his best preserved works and testifies to the ability and ingenuity of this artist.

John M. Nolan, Curator

 

Published in 2015

Object of the Month: February 2015

St. Augustine and St. Roch 

Oil on panel

Juan de Flandes

Flemish, active in Spain, c. 1465–1519

Click on the links throughout the article to view additional artists’ works and reference material.

This intriguing work by the Flemish painter Juan de Flandes was originally commissioned by the Augustinian Convent of St. Miguel de los Angeles. Here a 4th century scholar is paired with a 14th century healer. The painting’s pairing and rich iconographic detail not only highlight two fascinating biographies but also illustrate the power of image as text.

St. Augustine is revered not only as one of the church’s greatest theologians but also as one of the most profound minds of the western philosophic tradition. Born in 354 in Tagaste, North Africa, he was a precocious child who by his early teens had surpassed his tutors. At seventeen, he left Tagaste to continue his education in Carthage. While in Carthage he became enamored with the famous Roman, Cicero. He writes in his Confessions that the study of Cicero’s ideals unleashed in him an overwhelming desire to turn from material pleasures to pursue wisdom. Exploring the popular religious systems of the day, he soon embraced Manichaeism. Augustine held this philosophy for several years, but he later writes that its inability to help him “harness his passions and subdue his ambitious nature” so discouraged him that he cast it aside as a worthless abstraction.

Following his training in Carthage, he taught rhetoric first in Africa, in Rome (in 383), and then in Milan (in 384). It was in Milan that he encountered Bishop Ambrose. In his Confessions Augustine writes: “This man of God welcomed me as a father. As a result, I began to love him, not because of his teaching, but because of his warm and loving personality. I enjoyed hearing him preach, not in order to learn from what he said, but in order to admire and to imitate his eloquence. Indeed, I still despised the doctrines he taught. Yet, by opening my heart to the sweetness of his speech, the truth of his teaching began to enter my soul, little by little.” Augustine soon embraced the Christian faith and Ambrose baptized him in 387. Soon after, the new convert returned to North Africa where he eventually became Bishop of Hippo, ruling in that turbulent African diocese for 34 years until his death in 430.

Like many other figures in religious art, details of Augustine’s life can be pictured through his assigned attributes. For example, he is sometimes shown wearing a bishop’s robes and miter to signify his esteemed position and spiritual vocation; he also sometimes holds a book and pen, symbols of his scholarship and writing. His most common symbol, however, is the flaming heart which represents his passion and love for Christ following his conversion (when pierced with an arrow, it also signifies the death of worldly love).  Juan de Flandes uses all of these attributes in his rendering. In so doing, he not only highlights Augustine as a revered and influential scholar but also as a passionate servant whose conversion to Christ ended the tempestuous and relentless spiritual struggle that marked his early years.

 

St. Roch’s history is as interesting as Augustine’s—though less easily verified and more often mixing fact with fiction. As far as we can ascertain, St. Roch was born in Montpellier, France to a wealthy, influential family. When he was in his early 20s, both his parents died, and following their death Roch distributed his possessions among the poor and set out as a mendicant for Italy. It is here that he first encounters the plague. Overcome by the suffering of a plague-stricken populace, he begins to care for (and according to some stories heal) the sick. As the disease continues its sweep across Italy, Roch travels from city to city helping those in need. Unfortunately when he reaches Piacenza he himself falls ill. Not wishing to burden anyone, he retreats into the woods to die. According to legend, during this time a dog miraculously feeds the ailing saint. In some versions of the story the dog is his own, and in other versions it belongs to another master. In this second variant, the master follows the dog into the forest, finds Roch, and nurses him back to health. Still another version of the story, replaces the animal with an anointing angel. In all versions, however, Roch regains his health and continues his ministry among the sick. At the end of the pandemic, Roch returns home. Ironically, upon arriving in Montpellier he is arrested as a spy and brought before his only surviving uncle who is a judge in the town.  Unfortunately, Roch’s illness has so altered his appearance that his uncle fails to recognize him; he is, thus, thrown into prison where he dies five years later.

Like St. Augustine, St. Roch has numerous attributes, and Juan de Flandes integrates them all into this painting. Roch’s traditional pilgrim’s garb and staff (symbols of his mendicant travels) are included. The painter also includes both the dog and the angel, accounting for not one but two variations of the saint’s healing. Roch’s key symbol, a plague boil that appears on his thigh, is also evident.

 

Almost 1000 years separate the two figures that Juan de Flandes highlights in this work. The pairing of their stories, however, highlights a common theme: the power of a transcendent vision to heal the soul, inspire compassion, and alter the day-to-day affairs of men.

Donnalynn Hess, Director of Education

 

Published in 2015

Object of the Month: April 2014

The Man of Sorrows

Oil on panel

Albrecht Bouts

Flemish, c. 1452-d. 1549

 

Albrecht Bouts was born into an artistic family; his father, Dieric, was one of the most prominent artists in Louvain in the mid-fifteenth century and was elected official painter to the city in 1468. Albrecht learned his craft working closely with his father in his workshop; Dieric’s influence on his son’s artistic technique is seen most in Albrecht’s compositional choices rather than his style and brushwork. The present devotional panel, The Man of Sorrows, is widely believed to be based on a lost type created by Dieric; Albrecht would have been familiar with such images in his father’s shop as well as had access to his cartoons and drawings. Small and intimately composed images of Christ and Mary became enormously popular in the last part of the fifteenth century and into the sixteenth century, largely emanating from the workshops of the father and son.

The close-up focus on Christ’s face in this composition is a variation of an earlier fifteenth century model and reflects the Netherlandish trend of pious adoration of Christ’s head. Here, the bust-length image of Christ is presented frontally with a gaze fully engaging the viewer. Christ’s sunken, blood-shot eyes confront and invite the devotee to deeply contemplate the evidences of His suffering for mankind’s behalf. His eyelids are nearly half-way down, reflecting the countless hours of agony, pain, torture and sleeplessness. His brow bears a thick, entwined crown of thorns—one of the primary emblems of Christ’s torment and shame. Unlike any contemporary Italian painter’s conception of this theme, Bouts fully renders each thorn to depict their excruciating effect. On Christ’s sullen cheeks, translucent tears echo the flow of blood; the cool purple color of Christ’s lips reflect the blood loss and strain of torment. Finally, both Christ’s hands are raised in a blessing gesture.

Though many variations of this bust-length subject exist from Bouts and his workshop, very few, if any, are exactly alike. However, such detailed, realistic imagery focused on Christ’s substitutional sacrifice reflects the contemporary interest to contemplate Christ’s head and wounds both in art, but also in devotional tracts and meditations such as Thomas à Kempis’s Imitation of Christ.

 

Published in 2014

 

Object of the Month: June 2013

The Holy Family

Oil on panel

Joachim Bueckelaer

Monogrammed and dated: JB (top middle column) 1565 (top left column)

Flemish, c.1534–d.1574

Joachim Bueckelaer received his training in Antwerp from his uncle, Pieter Aertsen, who originated a type of genre painting with peasants or biblical characters set amidst a kitchen or market scene. As an innovator in a new approach to narrative painting, Aertsen enjoyed considerable success with patrons, though not a large following from other artists. Bueckelaer emulated Aertsen’s style closely when he became an independent master in 1560 and remained inspired by his teacher-uncle’s style for the rest of his career.

The painting came to the collection in 1963, three years after it was purchased at a Sotheby’s auction by dealer Julius Weitzner. Weitzner relates in a letter to Dr. Bob Jones Jr. (founder of the Museum & Gallery at Bob Jones University that the under-bidder for the sale was Phillip Pouncy (then Deputy Keeper of the Drawings Department at the British Museum) on behalf of Dr. Julius Held—representative for the Ferre Foundation and assembling works for the new Museo de Arte de Ponce in Puerto Rico.

Dr. Held later wrote to Dr. Jones about the painting saying, “Congratulations on the acquisition of the Bueckelaer; I know the picture very well and have always liked it very much. You did well to buy it.” Dr. Alfred Stange also commented that “The Holy Family by Bueckelaer is an outstanding picture; and signed and dated pictures by this master are, besides that, extremely rare.” Thieme-Becker listed the painting first among the artist’s most important works. The same year it was acquired by the museum it traveled to the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique in Brussels for the important Le Siècle de Bruegel: La peinture en Belgique au XVIe siecle exhibit.

In the present work, the artist places the biblical scene front and center, forming a pleasing figural arrangement with limbs at active diagonals and a triangular focal point between the three main character’s faces. The large-scale figures of Joseph and Mary fill the immediate foreground, giving a monumentality and nobility to the peasant-looking characters. Bueckelaer’s other market scenes with biblical narratives often had a moralizing purpose, contrasting secular and spiritual values and/or illustrating the frivolity of pleasing the flesh. Here the spiritual tone is elevated throughout the scene, and the beautiful basket of fruits underscores the satisfaction and blessing that can be found only in Christ, the focus of the narrative.

Though Bueckelaer’s work influenced Northern Italians such as Bartolomeo Passarotti and Annibale Carracci, he had no close successors in the Netherlands. Nonetheless, his lifelong commitment to still life and genre painting proved an important on-going presence in Antwerp. Seventeenth-century painters such as Frans Snyders illustrate his continued influence into the Baroque era. His small, respectable output of about forty extant paintings and few followers can be explained perhaps by his early death at age forty.

 

Published in 2013

Object of the Month: February 2013

Madonna of the Fireplace

Oil on panel, ca. 1500

Attributed to Jan Gossaert, called Mabuse

Flemish, b. Maubeuge?, ca. 1478, worked in Antwerp, d. Antwerp 1532

 

Though the Madonna of the Fireplace is a painting that continues to lack a firm attribution to a known painter; nonetheless, it is one of the “star” paintings in the collection. One of the primary considerations of Dr. Bob Jones Jr. in assembling the collection during the 1950s and 60s, was the importance of the painting’s quality, even if the work lacked sure authorship by a known artist.

The characteristics of this painting epitomize late fifteenth-century painting in the area of the Low Countries generically referred to as Flanders. The highly angled and stylized folds of the drapery are typical of paintings in the 1400s and even occur in carved sculpture from this period. The slightly awkward proportions and elongated facial features are stylistic hallmarks of the era as well as the very accomplished and detailed surface treatment. Even the setting for Mary and Christ strongly betrays its Northern origins. Though the fireplace carvings and treatment reveal the artist’s knowledge of Italian models, the tile floor patterns and the carved linen-fold wooden paneling would have been found in many well-to-do homes throughout Flanders. It is also the same kind of carved, period paneling on the very gallery wall on which this painting hangs in the museum.

One of the turning points in the history of Northern Renaissance art began when painters started depicting the Virgin in domestic interiors. Artists of the 1300s and early 1400s typically placed the Virgin within a church interior as part of an Annunciation scene or other narratives. However, this setting changed with innovations in the 1420s by Robert Campin, whose famous Merode Altarpiece (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) broke with tradition and pictured the Virgin in a domestic interior typical of a fifteenth-century home. M&G’s painter continues Campin’s vision later in the century with this remarkable panel—one of the most beautiful and well preserved paintings in the entire Museum & Gallery Collection.

 

Published in 2013