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Tag Archives: Flemish

Object of the Month: September 2023

Mother of Sorrows (Mater Dolorosa)

Oil on panel

Anthony van Dyck

Flemish, 1599–1641

Baroque art is characterized by its emotional pull. Sotheby’s defines the typical qualities of Baroque art as works with rich colors, strong contrast, luscious brushwork, and subject matter that provokes passion, awe, and reverence. This expressive art movement stemmed from a religious response in the seventeenth century called the Counter-Reformation. Art mimicked life in the emotional appeal for mankind’s souls; Biblical stories were taken beyond quiet, respectful meditation and became captured “moments” of heightened drama. Still, there are a handful of Baroque works in existence that balance this emotion with restrained contemplation. One of which is the Museum & Gallery’s Mother of Sorrows by Antony van Dyck.

Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641) is considered one of the great Flemish painters of the seventeenth century. A child prodigy, van Dyck became connected with another great Flemish artist, Peter Paul Rubens, and worked alongside the master on many important commissions. Van Dyck became known for his portraits, and his talent opened doors for him in many courts of Europe. With an extensive and prestigious curriculum vitae painting clients in all their luxury and refinement, van Dyck’s Mother of Sorrows is a unique contrast.

The Mother of Sorrows or Mater Dolorosa depicts Mary grieving her dead Son. It was developed from the theme of the Virgin of the Seven Sorrows, which showed each anguish she experienced after the birth of Christ. In the sixteenth century, Mary’s mourning was usually represented alongside Christ, the Man of Sorrows. However, by the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in Northern Europe, artists began depicting Mary alone against an undefined background to highlight the emotion of a bereaved mother. When this work was created circa 1625-1630, van Dyck had spent time in Italy and created many historic and religious works focused on main characters in their own narrative. Unlike Rubens, van Dyck did not clutter the canvas with various other characters or subject matter, instead focusing on the psychology of the main subject.

In M&G’s Mother of Sorrows, van Dyck explores the emotion of one of the world’s most famous mothers. Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, stands alone against a dark background. The contrast is so great she seems to glow under the intense chiaroscuro. The rich blue fabric softens the stark white veil, but also stands as a symbolic reminder of Mary’s virginity and status as the mother of the King of Kings. While not overwhelming in emotion compared to other contemporary interpretations, one can tell she is hurting. She leans forward with arms raised as if pleading. There is pentimenti, or earlier painting that has been covered over by the artist. Just under Mary’s outstretched hand is a faint remnant of a previously lower hand positioning. Art historians such as Gustav Gluck and Ludwig Burchard both agree this was created by van Dyck. It is believed that van Dyck did not spend more than one hour on each portrait. This leads the viewer to wonder why the artist adjusted the hand’s placement. Perhaps a lowered hand did not express the right amount of grief. Or perhaps a more uplifted hand shows Mary’s reliance on God in her darkest hour.

This work may not hold the same prestige as other van Dyck paintings. In fact, until 1864, it had been rather unknown since it was relatively inaccessible in a collection in St. Petersburg, Russia. However, it is a beautiful and rare work in van Dyck’s oeuvre. Gluck and Burchard applauded van Dyck’s color (which was heavily influenced by his time in Venice), his hand forms, and his portrayal of deep emotion. Gluck wrote, “the expression of the grieving face—a depth of feeling which is rare to the master’s work,” is a testament to how unique this painting is for its time. Viewers can resonate with this strong emotional moment of a grieving mother and reflect on one of the darkest moments in history, while also knowing the story does not end there.


KC Christmas Beach, M&G summer art educator


Published 2023

Pieter Bruegel, the Elder

Hunters in the Snow

Pieter Bruegel, the Elder

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Gaspar de Crayer: St. Augustine & St. Ambrose

In these two portraits, Flemish artist Gaspar de Crayer highlights Augustine, one of western civilization’s most noted philosophers, and Ambrose, the bishop who would bring this great scholar  to Christ.

Peter Paul Rubens (follower of)

Portrait of Charles the Bold

Peter Paul Rubens (follower of)

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Anthony van Dyck

Saint Rosalie Interceding for the Plague-Stricken of Palermo

Anthony van Dyck

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Peter Paul Rubens: Christ on the Cross

Art historian Michael Jaffe notes that Rubens’s crucified Christ marks a watershed in Christian iconography. Watch the video to learn more.

Jan Swart: Nativity Triptych

In this triptych the artist beautifully pictures several of the most familiar Christmas story events.

Gaspar de Crayer

St. Augustine 

Gaspar de Crayer

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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