ART 4 2-DAY 16 September
DEATH: 1530 METSYS
Died on or before 16 September 1530 (but no earlier
than 13 July 1530):
Quentin (or Quinten) Metsys (or Massys) “de Smit” (or “Herrero”),
Flemish painter born in 1466 (between 04 April and 10 September). His students included Joachim Patinir
— Rumors regarding Metsys’s early training abound: according to Lampsonius, he was a blacksmith who took up painting in order to woo his sweetheart away from a painter she admired. Van Mander alleged that Metsys was entirely self-taught as a painter, having taken to hand-colouring woodcuts when severe illness prevented his being able to practise the blacksmith’s trade. Despite the unlikelihood of a young painter, however gifted, being permitted to ignore guild restrictions controlling the training of apprentices, there may be an element of truth to both rumors. Metsys’s elder brother, Joost II, did join the family trade, and it is possible that their father, blacksmith Joost Massys [–1483], expected both sons to become partners. A consequent traditional attribution to Metsys is the late 15th-century wrought-iron housing of the so-called Massys Well in the Handschoenmarkt near the west front of Antwerp Cathedral.
About 1492 Quinten married Alyt van Tuylt [–1507], by whom he had three children: Quinten, Pawel and Katelijne. He was by then already living in Antwerp. In 1508 he married Catherina Heyns, with whom he had ten more children: Jan Massys [1509 – <08 Oct 1575] and Cornelis Massys [1510 — between Apr 1556 and Jan 1557], as well as Quinten II, Maria, Hubrecht, Abraham, Peternella, Katelijne II, Sara, and Susannah. Both Jan and Cornelis became artists but were still under the age of majority at the time of their father’s death, of the ‘sweating sickness’ (plague).
Massys made an early effort to synthesize the artistic tradition of the Northern Renaissance with that of the Italian Renaissance. The founder of the Antwerp school, he was probably born in Leuven, in what is now Belgium. Massys painted both religious pictures and secular portraits. Undated early works, such as Virgin and Child, show the influence of earlier Flemish masters in their intense religious feeling, sumptuous colors, and lavish attention to detail. In later works, particularly in portraits and in everyday scenes, Massys strove to depict his subjects in characteristic actions. In Money Changer and His Wife (1514), the subtly hinted conflict between greed and prayer represented in the couple illustrates a new satirical quality in his paintings. His portraits, particularly Portrait of an Elderly Man (1513), show the influence of Leonardo da Vinci in their unflinchingly honest, sometimes grotesque, physiognomies. His most advanced work, The Ugly Duchess (1515), is probably not a portrait of an actual person but an illustration he created for The Praise of Folie, by Dutch scholar Desiderius Erasmus, and carries Massys’s secular and satirical style to its culmination.
Massys (also: Matsys, Metsys) was the most important Antwerp artist of the first half of the 16th century. Massys was born in Louvain and probably completed his training there under the influence of Bouts. We know nothing about his early work. After having settled in Antwerp he was admitted to the Antwerp Saint Lukas Guild. He belonged to the circle of the humanists Petrus Aegidius and Erasmus, and was certainly influenced by their ideas. It is not known whether Massys traveled to Italy to study art there, as was fashionable even in his time, but his work, which is based on the Flemish tradition, also revealed Italian influences (particularly those of Leonardo da Vinci). The central element in Massys’s work is man. Hence his interest and talent for portraiture, which he sometimes used as the starting point for genre paintings. Thomas More called Massys “the renovator of the old art”. Massys died in Antwerp.
Quentin Massys (also spelled Matsys, Metsys, or Messys) was the first important painter of the Antwerp school. Trained as a blacksmith in his native Leuven, Massys is said to have studied painting after falling in love with an artist's daughter. In 1491 he went to Antwerp and was admitted into the painters' guild.
Among Massys' early works are two pictures of the Virgin and Child. His most celebrated paintings are two large triptych altarpieces, The Holy Kinship, (or Saint Anne Altarpiece) ordered for the Saint Pieterskerk in Leuven (1508), and The Entombment of the Lord (1510), both of which exhibit strong religious feeling and precision of detail. His tendency to accentuate individual expression is demonstrated in such pictures as The Old Man and the Courtesan and The Moneylender and His Wife (detail). Christus Salvator Mundi and The Virgin in Prayer display serene dignity. Pictures with figures on a smaller scale are a polyptych, the scattered parts of which have been reassembled, and a later Virgin and Child. His landscape backgrounds are in the style of one of his contemporaries, the Flemish artist Joachim Patinier; the landscape depicted in Massys' The Crucifixion is believed to be the work of Patinier. Massys painted many notable portraits, including one of his friend Erasmus.
Although his portraiture is more subjective and personal than that of Albrecht Dürer or Hans Holbein, Massys' painting may have been influenced by both German masters. Massys' lost Saint Jerome in His Study, of which a copy survives, is indebted to Dürer's Saint Jerome. Some Italian influence may also be detected, as in Virgin and Child, in which the figures are obviously copied from Leonardo da Vinci's Virgin of the Rocks
Erasmus of Rotterdam (1517, 59x46cm) _ This painting is testimony to the high cultural climate of the time, and evidence of the links between two great humanist thinkers; Erasmus of Rotterdam and Sir Thomas More, both of whom contributed to the publication of Utopia. The portrait is one of two panels of a diptych that Massys painted in 1517, while Erasmus was in Antwerp as the guest of his friend Pierre Gillis. In a letter to More written on the thirtieth of May, 1517, Erasmus affirmed that "They are painting both me and Pierre Gillis on the same panel". The portrait was completed on the ninth of September of that same year, and the diptych was sent as a gift to Thomas More. More expressed his thanks for the gift enthusiastically in his letter of 06 October 1517, writing; "I am marvelously affected by the portraits of the men that you sent me: even if they had been only simple sketches of charcoal or on gessetto, they would enchant any person except one completely insensitive to literature or to virtuosity; and they touch me more than I am possibly able to explain as they are mementos - now tangible - of such good friends". Erasmus is shown, intently at work, translating the epistle of Saint Paul to the Romans. The second half of the diptych has the portrait of Pierre Gillis.
The Adoration by the Magi (1526)
The Ugly Duchess (1530, 64x45cm) [I suspect that she was reincarnated in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (chapter 6)] _ Massys is one of the most important portraitists of the age, thanks above all to his pictures of Erasmus and Pierre Gilles (Petrus Aegidius), the town clerk of Antwerp. His most astonishing work in this genre is certainly the Grotesque Old Woman. (This picture is also known as The Ugly Duchess, because Sir John Tenniel [1820-1914] was later to use it in his illustrations for Alice in Wonderland.)
Massys based his own picture on a caricature by Leonardo da Vinci. He was also influenced, according to Panofsky, by his friend Erasmus's book Moriae Encomium (In Praise of Folly), in which the author describes old mad women who "still play the coquette", "cannot tear themselves away from their mirrors", and "do not hesitate to exhibit their repulsive withered breasts'. The effects of the huge ears, wrinkles, and ape-like face, are merely emphasized by the ridiculous hat. The sitter is made even more repugnant by the rich jewels she wears and the indiscretion of her low-cut dress. This picture is a prodigious exercise in the grotesque, in which Massys proves himself not only an astute critic of human vanity, but a worthy precursor of Goya and Picasso.
SAINT ANNE ALTARPIECE (1508, center 225x219cm, each wing 220x92cm)
Open _ Quentin Massys, born in Leuven, was received as a free master in the Guild of Saint Luke at Antwerp in 1491, where he became very well-known as a painter of religious subjects, portraits and satirical scenes, as well as embodying the new spirit of the Flemish Renaissance. The altarpiece in the Brussels museum is signed, dated and authenticated by archival documents. It was commissioned in 1507 by the Confraternity of Saint Anne in Leuven for its chapel in the church of Saint Peter in the same city and completed in 1509. It is a work of the painter's mature period, as shown by the Italianate architecture, the suavity of the faces and the pastel colors of the garments.
The altarpiece contains five scenes from the life of Saint Anne, the Virgin's mother, and of her husband Joachim. The saint's family is represented on the central panel. Anne and the Virgin holding the Child are seated on a bench, dominating the composition. Anne's second daughter, Mary Cleophas, is seated at the Virgin's feet with James the Less, Simon, Thaddeus and Joseph, seen in church tradition as being her sons. A manuscript book, upside down on Joseph's legs, carries an illumination representing King David, an allusion to Christ's ancestors. Anne's third daughter, Mary Salome, is seated at her mother's feet with her two sons, James the Great and John the Evangelist, the latter identified by the inkwell attached to his waist. The four men behind the balustrade are Joachim and his sons-in-law Joseph, Alpheus and Zebedee.
The significant episodes of Anne's and Joachim's lives are evoked on the wings of the triptych. The narrative cycle that starts on the reverse of the wings depicts essentially the drama of the couple's sterility and Anne's late maternity. To the left is depicted the gift made by the young couple to the temple for the poor. On the right panel, the high priest is refusing the aged Joachim's offering because he is childless. The passing of time between the two scenes is indicated by Joachim's beard and the change in the priest's appearance. The cycle continues on the front of the left panel where an angel announces Mary's birth to Joachim. In the background of the same panel, the conception of the Virgin takes place through the exchange of a chaste kiss between the spouses in front of the Golden Gate close to the city wall. The cycle ends with Anne's death, represented on the front of the right wing, surrounded by her children and with Christ blessing her.
Central Panel _ detail _ Massys's first dated work is the Holy Kinship, also known as The Saint Anne Altarpiece, now in Brussels. This triptych dates from 1507-1508, and was commissioned by the Confraternity of Saint Anne for their chapel in Saint Peter's church in Leuven. It is visibly the work of an experienced artist. The central panel shows the Virgin, the Holy Child and Saint Anne, with Mary the mother of James and Mary Salome sitting in the foreground with their children. Further back, there are four men standing behind the central figures, and behind them is an architectural fantasy in the Italian style, in trompe-l'oeil. The overall effect is of a portrait of a rich, dignified middle-class family, with its severe patriarchs and its amiable and graceful women - a family such as one might meet among the newly-wealthy classes that had begun to proliferate in Antwerp, thanks to the development of the port, which in those days had recently established itself as the first in Europe.
Left Wing _ An angel with large wings outspread, brings the news that Saint Anne is with child to Joachim, as he kneels beside a rock, his hands raised in adoration.
Right Wing detail _ Saint Anne is on her death bed, covered with a red sheet, her face pale, her mouth half open, as if she had just breathed her last. Mary Salome, who has collapsed with grief, wipes the tears from her cheeks
Closed _ The backs of the wings, when the triptych is closed, juxtapose two scenes. The first takes place beneath the portico of a church, the double arch of which gives onto a square, at the far end of which can be seen the tower of Antwerp cathedral. Under the portico, the High Priest of Jerusalem is receiving an ebony casket from Saint Anne, who lowers her eyes. Behind her, Joachim holds a parchment which contains the act of donation to the temple and its ministers. In the distance are two figures seen from behind: these too are Anne and Joachim, distributing money to the poor. In the second scene, Joachim's face and attitude express his distress and confusion: the High Priest has refused the coins Joachim has just placed on the offering table, and is gesturing to him brusquely to leave. Massys may sometimes tend towards mawkishness in his treatment of these themes, but Saint Anne was a particularly popular legend in Flanders and Holland, and this painting brought him immediate and considerable success.
SAINT JOHN ALTARPIECE (1508, 260x504cm)
Whole _ The famous triptych The Entombment, or Saint John Altarpiece, is an almost oriental fantasy. Some of the figures were probably inspired by the many exotic faces the painter would have seen around him in Antwerp. The central panel depicts the moment at which Joseph of Arimathea comes to ask the Virgin for her permission to bury Christ's body. Behind the central action is the hill of Golgotha, with its few trees, the cross and the crucified thieves. The right hand panel is a scene of extraordinary cruelty, depicting Saint John, his body plunged into a cauldron of boiling oil. The left wing shows Salome offering the head of Saint John the Baptist to Herod. The whole panel is marked by an extraordinary sense of profane pleasure in such a sumptuous display of rich colors.
Central panel _ This is the moment at which Joseph of Arimathea comes to ask the Virgin for her permission to bury Christ's body. Mary, supported by John, is slipping down onto her knees. In the foreground, Joseph is picking small scraps of bloody flesh from Christ's head, while Nicodemus tries to lift up the corpse by its armpits. Behind them, a centurion is holding the crown of thorns in a piece of cloth, so as to protect his fingers. Mary Salome is preparing to anoint the wounds in Jesus's hands with a sponge passed to her by another woman. A little further back on the right are three smaller figures who are preparing the tomb. Far off to the left, we can see Jerusalem, and behind it, blue mountains fading away into an azure sky. Behind the central action is the hill of Golgotha, with its few trees, the cross and the crucified thieves, all of them represented on a much smaller scale in comparison with the foreground figures. A man is carrying a ladder across the hill, while two women busy themselves mopping up the holy blood. They are watched as they work by two dogs and an owl.
Left wing _ Salome offers the head of Saint John the Baptist to Herod. Every face bears the stamp of evil. Herodias uses the tip of her knife to make her mark in the saint's forehead; she is presented as the perfect courtesan untrustworthy and vindictive. Herod himself, with his thick lips, hooked nose and narrowed eyes, even seems a little frightened by what he has just done. The whole panel is marked by an extraordinary sense of profane pleasure in such a sumptuous display of rich colors.
Right wing detail _ The monumental triptych welds together 15th century tradition and the new ideas about art which were emerging from Italy. The light effects, the gradation of color and the interweaving of the composition hark back to the attention to detail, the use of landscape as a backdrop and the rather stereotypical figures of the previous century.
Christ on the Cross with Donors triptych (1520, center 156x93cm, wings each 159x42cm) _ detail _ Here Massys achieves a perfect harmony between religious theme and landscape, traditional medieval scheme and innovative Renaissance elements. The Calvary group is based on a well-established medieval type. Saint John, gazing up at the Cross and wringing his hands, and Mary Magdalene, sinking to her knees at the foot of the Cross, are derived from earlier Crucifixion groups. The Virgin Mary is often shown in paintings of this kind but, in Massys' version she stands next to the Cross, her hands crossed on her chest, entirely withdrawn in sorrow. The weeping Mary Cleofas stands behind her. The colors. are deeper and the details more pronounced than in many other works by Massys. The realistic grief of the figures contrasts sharply with the lush, restful landscape in which the city of Jerusalem appears in the background. Massys shows himself here to be a transitional figure between the Gothic and Renaissance periods. His figures are undoubtedly Gothic in inspiration, but the fertile landscape expresses a sense of universality which points towards the Renaissance. The landscape is very similar to those of Joachim Patenier and might have been influenced by him. The painting was dated to around 1520 on the basis of the costume worn by the donors shown in the wings. These kneeling figures have not been identified, although we know their Christian names because of their respective patron saints who appear with them. The man is accompanied by Saint Jerome, and the woman by Saint Mary of Egypt.
round Virgin with the Child (diameter 22cm) _ About 1500, when the port of Antwerp began to emerge as the capital of north European trade, it also became a cultural melting pot. All manner of artists flocked into the town on the Scheldt. One of these was Quentin Massys from Louvain, who registered as a painter in the Saint Lucas Guild in 1491, and is regarded as the founder of the Antwerp School which was soon to topple the hegemony of the School of Bruges. He remained faithful to the Flemish tradition, although the sfumato in the background of some of his landscapes shows that he was familiar with the work of Leonardo da Vinci. He is usually regarded as a painter of monumental works, and rightly so, but he also painted smaller scale scenes with figures. This is hardly surprising, since his technique had its sources in miniature paintings. The Holy Virgin with the Child Jesus, a small tondo, bears witness to the attention the master paid to sensitive, finely detailed drawing to express the tender movement of the form, and the subtle use of color to convey the essence of a variety of textures.
a different Virgin and Child (130x86cm) _ The Virgin is seated in three-quarter profile on an imposing stone throne with Gothic ornamentation. Richly dressed in a dark red, fur-lined gown and a mantle bordered with pearl braiding, her head inclined in recollection, she holds the infant Jesus on her right arm. She appears to be meditating a passage in the book that Christ is thumbing. Their faces are surrounded by halos of golden rays. The Child, in a long white shirt, has seized the bookmark. Through an open window to the right of the throne we glimpse a building on the other side of a courtyard. The upper part of the window is decorated with a stained glass panel depicting Saint Catherine flanked by two escutcheons. A similar stained glass window to the left carries the figure of Saint Barbara. This painting, attributed to Quentin Massys, is part of the Madonna with Child group that the artist painted during his youth. The symmetrical composition, the hieratic presentation of the figures, the style of the Virgin's garments and the vigorous modeling of the draperies as well as the Gothic ornamentations all recall the tradition of the Flemish Primitives. The iconographic theme picks up the traditional image of Christ's incarnation. The Virgin in majesty is directly associated with the divine nature of her Son, the Word incarnate. Her meditative attitude and the red of her garments evoke the presentiment she had of her Child's destiny right from his birth. Massys' work refers back to earlier compositions that present Christ reading in the Virgin's arms. Two famous examples are Rogier van der Weyden's Madonna Durán (Madrid, Prado) and the Ince Hall Virgin attributed to a follower of Jan van Eyck (Melbourne, National Gallery of Victoria). With Massys we have the same monumental pose of the Virgin, with the niche-shaped throne similar to the one in Van der Weyden's painting. Even if the Brussels Madonna with Child shows how much the painter was part of the Flemish tradition, before coming under the influence of the Renaissance, it already contains the novel elements that were to make Massys the captivating and highly innovative artist whose talent would be fully revealed in his later works. With his exceptionally ample volumes, his supple shapes caressed by a strong, yet soft light, and the virtuoso translucency of his coloring technique, he carries the art of modeling forward to new heights.
yet another different Virgin and Child Virgin and Child in a Landscape Virgin and Child Surrounded by Angels
Lamentation (Central panel of the Guild of Carpenters' Altarpiece) (1511)
The Moneylender and his Wife (1514, 71x68cm) _ To a certain degree in opposition to the Romanists amongst his contemporaries, Massys held fast to the traditions established by Early Netherlandish art. Italian influences, to which he was only indirectly exposed, nevertheless make themselves felt in the monumentalization of his figures. The Moneychanger and his Wife is an early example of the genre painting which would flourish in Flanders and the northern Netherlands over the course of the 16th century. Seated behind the table, and each sliced on one side by the frame, the figures are set back from the front edge of the painting. Although sophisticated in their nuances of color, the faces wear an expression of relative indifference. There exists several, partly different copies of the painting.
_ detail _ Full of their own life are the still-life details the lavishly illuminated codex through which the wife is leafing, the angled mirror, which reflects the outer world into the picture in masterly foreshortening, and the glass, accessories and coins gleaming on the table and on the shelves against the far wall. In the dominant role which it grants to these objects, the painting marks an important step along the path towards the pure still life. By inserting his own likeness into the painting - reflected in the convex mirror Massys recalls the use of this device by Jan van Eyck in The Arnolfini Marriage of 1434. [see also Parmigianino's Self-portrait in a Convex Mirror of 1524; Escher's Hand with Reflecting Globe of 1935]
John the Baptist and Saint Agnes wings of a lost triptych (1520, 48x13cm each) _ The wings, which show Saints Lawrence and Dorothy on their exterior, were once part of a devotional triptych. The center is supposed to have been a Virgin and Child crowned by angels.
Portrait of an Old Man (1517, 48x37cm) _ Massys is one of the most important portraitists of the age, thanks above all to his pictures of Erasmus and Pierre Gilles (Petrus Aegidius), the town clerk of Antwerp, which he painted in 1517 and sent as a gift to Thomas More. The Portrait of an Old Man is an historically important work, for it is the first portrait by a Flemish artist to show the sitter in profile, following the Italian model.
Portrait of a Canon (1515, 60x73cm) _ [NOT a cannon] _ Massys here demonstrates his confident abilities as a portrait painter. The canon calmly surveys the outside world, but his thoughts seem to be turned inwards. Sebastiano del Piombo's more or less contemporaneous portrait of Cardinal Carondelet and his Secretary offers an interesting comparison in this respect. The Cardinal observes the external world with cool, calculating eyes, but without the kindliness suggested by Massys' canon. The secularity of Carondelet and his setting is diametrically opposed to the personality of the canon, rooted in the Christian faith.
In his composition, Massys achieves a homogeneity and grandeur only rarely paralleled in his oeuvre. The half length figure is contained within the approximate volume of a pyramid, dominating the pictorial field. Massys avoids any sense of rigidity, however, by slightly offsetting the sitter to the left of the central axis and by showing his head slightly turned.
The sensitive handling of paint evidenced in the iridescent hues of the cape and in the light and shade which model the head is on an equal par with contemporary Venetian painting, which Massys would probably not have known. There is a melodious harmony, too, in the relationship between figure and landscape. From a slightly elevated standpoint, we look out across a broad expanse of hills and meadows towards the hazy distant mountains. Nature is filled with the same quiet calm as the canon himself.
The Rest on the Flight into Egypt (1513) _ Massys was the leading master of his time in Antwerp. International in his outlook, he combined the carefully detailed and brilliantly colored surfaces of the Flemish tradition with the more monumental and expressive figure types found in Italian and German art. The Rest on the Flight into Egypt was originally part of an ensemble of eight paintings representing The Seven Sorrows of the Virgin, made for the main altar of a monastery near Lisbon. In this panel, against a scene of slaughter taking place in the background, the Holy Family is shown fleeing to Egypt to escape King Herod's execution of all children in Bethlehem two years and younger. Massys's sensitive rendering of the expressive faces of the main figures conveys the deep emotions associated with this event. His attention to the landscape, in particular the complex rock formations, is notably advanced for the period.