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Saturday, May 27, 2017

Two A: Art of the Lowlands at the Louvre

The Louvre Museum in Paris has a selection of important works from the Lowlands, meaning the region of Northern Europe which later became The Netherlands and Belgium.


Early Netherlandish Art

In the early 1400s—the time of Fra Angelico and Andrea Mantegna in Italy—the most important artists in the Lowlands were Jan van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden.

Jan van Eyck, 1390-1441

Van Eyck was one of the founders of Early Netherlandish art in the early 1400s, when the Renaissance was getting under way in Italy.

He is credited with the developments of techniques for using oil-based paint, as opposed to tempera, which is egg-based.

Jan van Eyck, c. 1390-1441
The Virgin of Chancellor Rolin, c. 1435
Photo by Dan L. Smith, 2015

Rogier van der Weyden, 1399-1464

Van der Weyden was a very influential early Netherlandish painter.

He is credited with a relatively small number of works, most of them altarpieces.

Rogier van der Weyden, 1399-1464
Braque Family Triptych, 1450
JLS, 2015

Hans Memling, c. 1435-1494

Memling was a German painter who moved to Flanders and worked in the tradition of Early Netherlandish painting.

Hans Memling, c. 1435-1494
Virgin and Child with Sts James and Dominic, c. 1490

Hans Memling, c. 1435-1494
Triptych of the Resurrection, c. 1490

Quentin Metsys, 1466-1530

Metsys is sometimes spelled Matsys, and sometimes Massys.

Metsys is one of greatest Netherlandish artists of the early Renaissance period.

Although he is best known for satyrical works, he also did more traditional religious pieces.

Quentin Metsys, 1466-1530
The Virgin and Child, 1529

Jan Gossart, c. 1478-1532

Jan Gossart was a French-speaking artist of the Lowlands. He is sometimes called 'Mabuse,' a name that relates to his birthplace.

He is famous for bringing aspects of the Italian Renaissance style to Netherlandish art.

Jan Gossart, c. 1478-1532
Diptych of Jean Carondelet, 1517

Joos van Cleve, c. 1485-c. 1541

Joos van Cleve was a Netherlandish painter who updated painting in the direction of the Italian Renaissance.

Joos van Cleve, c. 1485-c. 1541
Salvator Mundi, Savior of the World, 1500-1520

The most important Early Netherlandish painters were Jan van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden.

Artists who were more influenced by the Italian Renaissance were Jan Gossaert and Joos van Cleve.



In Italy, Mannerism was a development of the Renaissance style that emphasized drama and extreme poses.

Netherlandish art was somewhat influenced by Mannerism, but Netherlandish artists had their own themes.

In the Netherlands, the two most important Mannerist painters were Marinus van Reymerswaele and Jan Massys.

Marinus van Reymerswaele, c. 1490-1566

Van Reymerswaele is known mainly for his satyrical paintings. He frequently depicted money-changers and tax collectors as greedy characters.

Marinus van Reymerswaele, c. 1490-1566
Two Tax Collectors, c. 1540

Jan Massys, c. 1509-c. 1575

Jan Massys included sly satire in his his Biblical scenes.

Jan Massys, c. 1509-c. 1575
David and Bathsheba, 1562
Key Points about the 1400s and 1500s in the Lowlands:

The most important early Netherlandish artist was Jan van Eyck, because he refined and popularized the use of oil paints.

In the 1400s, the principal theme of art was religious, and the main influence on Netherlandish art was Italy.

Several talented and versatile painters were active in the Lowlands during the 1400s and 1500s, but their names do not stand out in the overall history of art in Europe.


The Baroque Period

During the 1600s, Netherlandish artists were greatly influenced by the high drama of Baroque art in Italy, and especially the stagey light effects of Caravaggio.

Peter Paul Rubens, 1577-1640

Rubens was the titan of Flemish art in the early 1600s.

He was internationally known, and fulfilled commissions from the Royalty of England, France, and Spain. His output was prodigious.

He could paint in any of the styles that were popular at the time, though he tended to be dramatic and voluptuous.
Peter Paul Rubens, 1577-1640
The Death of Dido, c. 1638
  • Depicted above, Dido was the mythical founder and queen of Carthage, according to the Roman poet, Virgil. In his story, Dido sacrifices her life rather than betray her first husband by marrying the ruler of a neighboring country.

Peter Paul Rubens, 1577-1640
Baron Henri de Vicq, date unknown

Peter Paul Rubens, 1577-1640
Countryside with Ruins of Palatine in Rome

Marie de' Medici cycle

The Louvre is home to a unique creation by Rubens that is difficult to appreciate and tends to be overlooked. This is a series of 24 monumental canvases, called the Marie de' Medici cycle, depicting key moments in the biography of the wife of Henry IV of France. It was simply unprecedented to aggrandize a woman's life in this way.

What gave Marie such a sense of self-importance was that when Henry died, his son and successor was only eight years old, so she acted as his regent. Thus there are canvases depicting her birth, her education, her introduction to Henry IV, the Wedding, the Birth of their son, the consignment of the regency, her Coronation, and so forth.

Rubens' painting style was sufficiently grandiose to meet the demands of even the most egoistic patron, replete with allegory and glorification.  Both the concept and the execution of this series are amazing.

The canvases originally decorated the Luxembourg Palace, the Queen's residence. Now they have their own beautiful gallery at the Louvre.

The vertical canvases are about 13 feet tall while the horizontal canvases are about 37 feet wide.

The Consignment of the Regency

The Victory at J├╝lich

Louis XIII Comes of Age

Anthony van Dyck, 1599-1641

Van Dyck  was a Flemish artist of the Baroque era who spent much of his career in England, painting portraits for the Royal house.

Anthony van Dyck, 1599-1641
James Stuart, c. 1633

Anthony van Dyck, 1599-1641
Portrait of Charles Louis I and his Brother Robert, 1637

The Golden Age of Dutch Painting

In the mid-1500s, the northern, protestant area began to separate from the southern, Catholic area, and also to get out from under Spanish domination. 
  • The region began to unify under the name of the Netherlands, and as they unified, their fortunes improved.
  • The Netherlands is also known as Holland, and its citizens are called Dutch. 

By the 1600s, the economy of the Netherlands was booming, with a flowering of trade and industry, as well as arts and sciences. 
  • The unique aspect of the Dutch economy was that the wealth was rather widely distributed. Instead of depending on the land and agriculture, the economy depended on commerce and manufacture; thus, instead of the nation's wealth being hoarded by royalty and the landed aristocracy, it was accumulated by a fairly large class of merchants and traders.
  • This had a good effect on art because a lot of people could afford to acquire or commission works of art, which enabled the development of many talented artists.

Frans Hals, 1580-1666

Frans Hals helped establish the basic characteristics of Dutch painting at the time.

Like most artists, Hals depended on commissioned portraits that were formal and flattering. But he is more beloved for depicting stock characters of Dutch life, where he could use a more casual, evocative style.

Frans Hals, 1580-1666
The Gypsy Girl, c.1628

Frans Hals, 1580-1666
Buffoon with a Lute, 1626

Gerrit van Honthorst, 1590-1656

Van Honthorst is sometimes called Gerard van Honthorst.

Honthorst was a leading painter in the early phase of the Dutch Golden Age.

He was one of a small group of painters based in Utrecht, in the Netherlands, who deliberately emulated the work of Caravaggio, a contemporary Italian painter. They particularly favored his naturalistic depiction of characters and his stagey light. Honthort, ter Brugghen, and others developed Caravaggio's aesthetics in a particularly Dutch manner.

Gerrit van Honthorst, 1590-1656
Woman Playing a Guitar, c. 1624

Salomon van Ruysdael, 1602-1670

Landscape painting became popular in its own right during this period.

Van Ruysdael was one of the major landscape painters of the Dutch Golden Age.

Salomon van Ruysdael, 1602-1670
Golden Seascape, 1665

Rembrandt, 1606-1669

Rembrandt was the undisputed giant of Dutch art during the Golden age. The Louvre has many of his works, but lighting conditions create terrible glare in that gallery, making photography difficult.

Rembrandt painted over ninety portraits of himself—a record—and the Louvre has several of these. It is quite moving to see his frank report of his maturing personality and his aging appearance, but most of the paintings were obscured by glare.

Rembrandt, 1606-1669
Self-portrait with Bare Head, 1633

Rembrandt, 1606-1669
Portrait of the Artist in a Toque and Gold Chain, 1633

Rembrandt, 1606-1669
Rembrandt in a toque in front of architecture, c. 1639

Rembrandt also interpreted many stories from the Bible with unprecedented psychological insight.

Rembrandt, 1606-1669
Bathsheba at Her Bath, 1654
  • The nude above shows Rembrandt's true genius. The way this story is usually shown, Bathsheba is taking a bath in her garden, with a couple of female attendants. She is espied by King David, who is captivated by her beauty. Learning she is the wife of a soldier who is away at war, he dispatches a messenger to make her a proposition. The treatment by Jan Massys discussed previously is typical.
  • Rembrandt brings the story inside in order to make it more intimate than decorative. Instead of idealizing Bathsheba's figure, he paints a fairly realistic body, and still she is lovely. He introduces a psychological element that had never been shown so intimately. If you were actually propositioned by a king while your husband was away in a lengthy war with no means of communication, what would you do? Does she really have a choice in the matter?

Albrecht Cuyp, 1620-1691

Albrecht Cuyp painted a variety of scenic views, but most of them featured cows prominently. Dairy was very important to the Dutch economy and cows were valued highly.

Albrecht Cuyp, 1620-1691
Landscape near Rhenen, c. 1655

Paulus Potter, 1625-1654

Paulus Potter was a versatile painter, but he tended to specialize in animals. Animals were a new subject for painting at the time, and animal paintings became very popular.

Paulus Potter, 1625-1654
The Spotted Horse, 1653

Johannes Vermeer, 1632-1675

In the generation following Rembrandt, Johannes Vermeer came to represent the ideal style of Dutch painting. There aren't many of Vermeer's works in existence. The Louvre has one of the most popular.

Johannes Vermeer, 1632-1675
The Lacemaker, c. 1670

Take-aways from the Louvre's collection 
of Netherlandish art:

The most important Early Netherlandish painters were Jan van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden.

Artists who were more influenced by the Italian Renaissance were Jan Gossaert and Joos van Cleve.

The two most important Mannerist painters in the Netherlands, were Marinus van Reymerswaele and Jan Massys.

During the Baroque period, the two major Flemish artists were Rubens and van Dyck.

The most important painters of the Dutch Golden Age were Frans Hals, Rembrandt, and Vermeer.

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