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Tag Archives: old masters

Explore the Collection

Old Master paintings can be overwhelming sometimes with their detailed beauty, serious palette, and historical roots. But they don’t have to be, which is why M&G created the EXPLORE pages—a diversion on our website to unfold some of the mystery and meaning in the art of the past. Watch, listen, read, and color your way through the world of Old Masters!

Click on the links below to investigate for yourself:

 

Object of the Month: June 2024
The Collection
Scavenger Hunts
Collection on View
ArtBreak: Past Series
M&G Objects on Loan
Watch This!
A Closer Look
History in Pictures
M&G Coloring Pages
Think on These Things
From the Director
M&G Kids

Object of the Month: June 2023

Jonah Under the Gourd Vine

Oil on panel, monogrammed: D.F.

Maerten van Heemskerck (attr. to)

Dutch, 1498–1574

Maerten van Heemskerck was born the son of a farmer June 1498 in the Netherlands. He left the farm to study art under Cornelis Willemsz. in Haarlem and Jan Lucasz. in Delft. Between 1527-1530, Heemskerck placed himself under the tutelage of Jan van Scorel in Haarlem. M&G’s collection includes works by Scorel and Heemskerck’s biographer, Karl van Mander. Scorel had extensively studied in Utrecht (with Jan Gossaert), Germany (with Albrecht Durer), Switzerland, Venice, Jerusalem, Cyprus, Crete, and finally Rome. During his time in Rome, his artistic style was heavily influenced by the works of Michelangelo and Raphael. Scorel brought these new artistic ideas back with him to the Netherlands and taught them to Heemskerck.

Perhaps Scorel’s adventures inspired Heemskerck. Like many today in modern society, Heemskerck planned his own summer vacation. In 1532, he set off for an adventure with the primary purpose of seeing the Seven Wonders of the World. He left a parting gift for colleagues in the form of an altarpiece for St. Luke’s altar in Bavokerk depicting St. Luke painting Mary. He landed in Rome, July 1532. On his travels, he “made accurate, conscientious sketches of antique ruins and statues” (National Gallery of Art). He also was able to view for himself the works of Michelangelo and Raphael. In 1537, he returned to Haarlem where he remained for the rest of his life. He became well known for portraits, religious paintings, and producing designs for engravers.

M&G’s Jonah Under the Gourd Vine displays elements from Heemskerck’s travels. In the background behind Jonah, he includes the Vatican Obelisk as well as a bridge over the Tiber River which he probably saw during his time in Rome. In fact, the city of Nineveh looks more like the city of Rome than a city in the Middle East. Even the figure of Jonah mimics Michelangelo’s figures in The Creation of Adam. The whole composition imitates Heemskerck’s The Last Four Things as well as his Panorama with the Abduction of Helen Amidst the Wonders of the Ancient World.

Heemskerck depicts the portion of the story of Jonah where he has finally obeyed God’s call to preach repentance to the city of Nineveh. In Jonah 1:1, God commissioned Jonah to go to Nineveh and give the city a chance to turn from evil to God. However, Jonah thought that Nineveh deserved condemnation and judgment not mercy (Jonah 4: 2), so he attempted to run in the opposite direction toward Tarshish. Jonah’s disobedience resulted in his spending three days and three nights in the belly of fish before he repented, and God mercifully rescued him. Jonah now had a second chance to obey.

Jonah consented; he went and preached repentance to Nineveh. To his surprise, the whole city repented, including the king. Instead of rejoicing over those who repented, Jonah pouted in anger. Here Heemskerck portrays Jonah taking shelter under the leaves of a gourd vine overlooking the city of Nineveh with God looking down from the heavens. Trailing from his hand is a banner inscribed with BENE IRASCOR EGO VSQVE AD MORTEM IONA CA 4 16 which communicates Jonah’s true feelings: “Rightly I myself am exceedingly angry unto death, Jonah 4:16.” Having experienced God’s mercy first-hand and himself been given a second chance, Jonah should have delighted in God’s compassion. Sadly, he placed himself in the position of telling God what he believed God should have done—to pass judgment on the Ninevites. James 1:19-20 reminds us that unlike Jonah, we should follow God’s example and be “slow to wrath.”

 

Rebekah Cobb

M&G Collections Support Staff

Published 2023

Picture Books of the Past: Mattia Preti

Enjoy this series of segments highlighting Picture Books of the Past: Reading Old Master Paintings, a loan exhibition of 60+ works from the M&G collection. The exhibit has traveled to The Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. and the Orlando Museum of Art in Florida.

It is fascinating to see the similarities in technique between Old Master painters and contemporary visual storytellers. This work by Mattia Preti  provides a good illustration.

St. Michael the Archangel Overcoming Satan

St. Michael the Archangel Overcoming Satan

Giovanni Andrea Sirani

Below the image, click play to listen.

 

Picture Books of the Past: Bartolommeo Neroni

Enjoy this series of segments highlighting Picture Books of the Past: Reading Old Master Paintings, a loan exhibition of 60+ works from the M&G collection. The exhibit has traveled to The Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. and the Orlando Museum of Art in Florida.

In contrast to the large altarpieces commissioned by churches, the Tondo’s circular format was well suited for private homes.

Holy Kinship

Holy Kinship

Vincent Sellaer, called Geldersman

Below the image, click play to listen.

Object of the Month: April 2023

St. Catherine of Alexandria

Oil on panel

Francesco Casella

Italian, active 1517

The legend of St. Catherine of Alexandria is found first in The Golden Legend a compilation of the lives of saints, actual and legendary, published in 1275. Catherine, an Egyptian princess, vows to keep her virginity for a mystical marriage to Christ. When the Emperor Maxentius requires pagan worship, Catherine refuses and when confronted with fifty scholars to convince her, ends up converting them! She is condemned to death by torture on a razor-studded wheel.

Though St. Catherine is often painted in other scenes of her life and with other attributions speaking to her erudition, Casella here portrays only the iconographic signs of her martyrdom: the palm, the halo, and the wheel. In the legend, St. Catherine is spared the wheel through angelic intervention, but she achieves the martyr’s crown through decapitation shown by the sword hilt at the bottom of the portrait. Clearly, the work’s purpose, indicated by the three-quarter figure size and lack of significant background, is to elevate Catherine as a saint and a devotional example to follow. Women in the church found her to be a role model of devotion to God, an example of sacrificial faithfulness to truth, and a mentor in the quest for learning.

Catherine’s elegant dress and costly jewels may be an indication of the artist’s familiarity with other renditions of the saint in enamel figures. Those works have pearls and sapphires on both the saint’s dress and crown. A close look at the painting reveals that the jewels on her dress could be sapphires, befitting her station as royalty, with the central stone perhaps a ruby marking her as a “virtuous woman.” Her queen’s crown is adorned with the same sapphire-like jewels surrounded by three pearls, likely an indication of the Trinity.

Catherine had much to keep her in this world—position, power, and potential. Yet she gazes away from the earthly. As a modern Magdalen, she contemplates a world outside the palace, a view made possible by a partially drawn velvet curtain. The earthy green reflects the mortal life, the gold reverse a heavenly one. Surely the landscape she contemplates outside the window is not the palace grounds, but that “city whose builder and maker is God.” Golden streets lie waiting for the victorious saint’s feet.

Catherine’s gaze at the eternal rather than the temporal creates the devotional thrust of this M&G portrait. She models the goal of the Christian: keep one’s eyes on the eternal prize. There is something to be said for an objective examination of what one wants to have lived—and died—for. Francesco Casella’s portrait, characterized by what Mina Gregori calls “major monumentality… [and] refined, pictorial sharpness,” presents a view of the ideal.

 

Dr. Karen Rowe Jones, M&G board member and volunteer

References:

Young, Bonnie. “A Jewel of St. Catherine.” https://www.jstor.org/stable/3258995

 

Published 2023

Object of the Month: February 2023

Pentecost

Oil on canvas

Charles Le Brun

French, 1619–1690

Though perhaps not as well known today, the fame of this French artist outlasted his years for at least a century, if not longer. Charles Le Brun was born February 24, 1619 and died twelve days before his 72nd birthday in 1690.

Le Brun was recognized for his prodigious talent at only 11 years of age, when he was noticed by the Chancellor of France, Louis Seguier. The Chancellor connected Charles with Simon Vouet, one of France’s most important painters of the seventeenth century (and also represented in M&G’s collection by two works, King David Playing the Harp and Salome with the Head of John the Baptist). He furthered his artistic study in Rome under fellow countryman Nicolas Poussin, developing a more classical Baroque style.

Charles had the skill and opportunities to develop political connections with French nobility and royalty, earning commissions and support from the most powerful of the French court. He was one of the twelve founding directors of the French Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture, accepting leadership of it under the Sun King, Louis XIV and his powerful advisor, First Minister of State Jean-Baptiste Colbert. Unfortunately, as Charles’ successes increased, he snubbed his teacher Vouet, excluding him from involvement in the academy.

Le Brun’s influence and administrative ability enabled him to direct and determine the style of painting and design from a royal perspective. His texts, theories, and styles would be followed for at least a century. He is credited with making Paris the center of the art world, eclipsing the position first held by Rome. Many other works for which he was responsible as either artist or director are found in the great edifices of Versailles and Vaux-le-Vicomte.

Acquired in 1965, M&G’s Pentecost is a modello or final color study for a large altarpiece of the same subject Le Brun painted for the chapel of the seminary of St. Sulpice (now St Honoré-d’Eylau) in Paris. Engraved copies exist and attest to Le Brun’s ability and popularity. On the middle left, the figure looking out at the viewer is none other than the artist himself—Charles Le Brun, around 37 years old and in the prime of his career. By including himself in this occasion, he not only reveals himself as the artist but also as a disciple inviting the viewer to participate in the event. Le Brun transported the believers and the spectators of the painting to a classical architectural representation of the upper room for the place of the Spirit’s descent.

Christ told His disciples to stay in Jerusalem until the Comforter or the Holy Spirit came. Acts 2 gives account of the fulfillment of Christ’s promise. The coming of the Spirit was the source of comfort and power for the early church to successfully carry out the work that Christ commissioned them to do in Matthew 28:18-20. Pentecost was not only a Jewish feast in the Old Testament, but it was the beginning of the Holy Spirit’s work that continues today. It was more than a historical event. True believers today are also indwelt by the same Spirit and commanded to be Spirit-filled as the apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 5:18.

As you consider this painting and Le Brun’s invitation, may you also remember his February birthday and the wonderful truths of God’s Word that the Comforter has indeed come. “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” John 14:26.

 

John Good

M&G volunteer and former M&G docent and Security Manager

 

 

Published 2023

 

Psuedo Pier Francesco Fiorentino

Madonna and Child with St. John and an Angel

Psuedo Pier Francesco Fiorentino

Below the image, click play to listen.

Picture Books of the Past: Master of Staffolo

Enjoy this series of segments highlighting Picture Books of the Past: Reading Old Master Paintings, a loan exhibition of 60+ works from the M&G collection. The exhibit has traveled to The Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. and the Orlando Museum of Art in Florida.

It is unusual to find a complete altarpiece from the late Gothic era, but this beautiful triptych (or three-paneled altarpiece) is still intact.