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Jan Gossaert: Die niederlandische Kunst zu Beginn der Neuzeit.

Ariane Mensger. Jan Gossaert: Die niederlandische Kunst zu Beginn der Neuzeit.

Berlin: Dietrich Reimer Verlag GmbH, 2002.240 pp. index. append. illus. bibl. [euro] 64. ISBN: 3-496-01266-8.

Jan Gossaert, the early standard-bearer of the Netherlandish Renaissance, is the subject of a new monograph by Ariane Mensger, the first general consideration of the artist since the Gossaert exhibition in Bruges of 1965 and the revision of Max J. Friedlander's volume from the series Early Netherlandish Painting in 1972. Gossaert, darling of Netherlandish court society and an impressive artistic innovator, fell out of favor in the early twentieth century; Friedlander branded him a tasteless imitator of the fifteenth-century primitifs whom he so loved and a mannered practitioner of an Italian mode, far removed from a reigning aesthetic canon based largely on Raphael. But opinions have changed considerably during the last several decades with far more nuanced views of Italianate manners and mannerism replacing older models. Mensger's book admirably brings the study of Gossaert up to date with a complete account of art historical literature on her subject. Her book, based on her dissertation, comprises a series of short informative essays on different aspects of the artist's work that offer an excellent introduction to her subject.

The Malvagna Triptych is the centerpiece of a discussion of Gossaert's interest in Late Gothic forms. These, Mensger declares, are contemporaneous with the painter's early investigations of Renaissance imagery and are not simply the early stage of a linear stylistic progression. Indeed, as has been noted, the wings of the Salamanca Triptych, dated 1521, display on their exterior Late Gothic molding that frames the Virgin and Archangel Gabriel, while, on the interior, Italianate niches are provided for Saints Peter and John the Baptist. A certain stylistic pluralism is typical of Gossaert and the period. Jan van Roome, painter to Margaret of Austria, also worked in both a Late Gothic and Italianate mode simultaneously, as did the architects Pierre Chambiges in France and Benedikt Ried in Prague. Mensger is no doubt correct in pointing to the strong Bruges inflection of the figure group in the Malvagna Triptych, yet Gossaert's remarkable architectural design--the magnificent intricately drafted tabernacle that shelters the figures--is a brilliant invention in the Brabantine idiom, as the author's comparative material suggests. Although the small altarpiece was in Sicily by an early date, it is somewhat misleading to refer to the work as "Late Gothic for export." Gossaert's paintings traveled through the hands of the nobility and high-placed commoners like Jean Carondelet and Antonio Siciliano. The Malvagna Triptych was likely made on commission for a patron who may have chosen to carry it abroad or bestow it upon a foreign recipient. It was not intended principally for export in the way that so many Netherlandish carved altarpieces of the period were sold.

A look at Gossaert's relationship to Jan van Eyck reveals a sophisticated array of hommages to the earlier artist, creative reworkings of van Eyck's inventions and adaptations to a new age. Jan van Eyck gives rise to a new classicism of sorts to which Gossaert refers in the Prado Deisis and the portrait of Jean Carondelet, which is paired with the bust-length view of St. Donatius. The Doria copy of Van Eyck's Madonna Standing in a Church, of course, is a more direct emulation of this founder of the Netherlandish school of painting, already touted in the contemporary verses of Jean Lemaire de Belges. The vogue for Van Eyck can be related to a heightened consciousness of art as a discrete realm of human endeavor and source of authority. Mensger discusses the relationship between her painter and the court humanist Gerardus Geldenhauer, whose praise of painting in verse is given in an appendix. As the author details in her treatment of the mythological works that come from Gossaert's brush, paintings are increasingly divorced from the functions that previously circumscribed their experience. The private collection, the cabinet, becomes the intended site of display and no longer the church chapel or town hall.

Mensger's exploration of Gossaert's debt to the legacy of antiquity and his devising of several Italianate modes is one of the strengths of her book. Court society is identified as the birthplace of this new direction in the arts, and Mensger discusses Gossaert's use of Italianate forms in the new political discourse of rulers and the high nobility. Gossaert's journey to Rome and his work for Philip of Burgundy in both Zeeland and Utrecht are carefully examined. Already in 1517 the Utrecht Cathedral had ordered a brass choir screen in the Italianate mode with the telling words that all traces of the Gothic were to be avoided; Gossaert was called in to ensure that the design met these specifications. His expertise in things Italianate is shown to best advantage in his series of mythological nudes and allegories; indeed, Guicciardini praised the painter for having brought such poesie to the Netherlands. Gossaert introduced a great many subjects into Netherlandish painting. His Neptune and Amphitrite, Hercules and Dejanera, Hermaphrodite and Salmacis, Danae, and even Venus and Amor, are the earliest extant versions on panel or canvas from the region. Mensger further shows how these novel images reconcile various traditions, how Gossaert's Hercules and Dejanera, for instance, accommodated strains of the older Power of Women topos to the new classical subject matter.

Mensger's monograph is illustrated entirely with black-and-white reproductions of generally good quality.


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Title Annotation:Reviews
Author:Kavaler, Ethan Matt
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 2004
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