CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Making a Renaissance painting

Exhibition: 5 December 2000 - 19 August 2001

Museum press release, 14 December 2000, taken from the museum website, 2 March 2009

The Getty’s The Miraculous Draught of Fishes (1563), the work of prominent Netherlandish artist Joachim Beuckelaer (1533-1574), is the focus of Making a Renaissance Painting. Visitors can walk around the entire painting, seeing both the image on its front side and the joined wooden panels on its back side. Most paintings in Northern Europe during the Renaissance were done on wooden panels, although Beuckelaer and some of his contemporaries worked on both panel and canvas.

Visitors to this special installation of Beuckelaer’s splendid painting will also see a portion of an oak tree trunk from which panels have been cut and prepared for painting; a step-by-step depiction of the painting process and materials, including pigments and their plant and mineral sources; and a detailed technical analysis of The Miraculous Draught of Fishes using infrared photography, X-radiography, and polarized light microscopy, revealing among other things the artist’s original chalk underdrawing beneath the painted surface.

Beuckelaer specialized in genre painting–depicting scenes from everyday life and surroundings–and the practice of combining secular scenes with religious scenes. The colorful foreground of The Miraculous Draught of Fishes depicts a lively waterfront scene of fishermen hauling in their catch and townspeople buying fish. But the more muted background contains the painting’s main subject: Christ’s miraculous appearance to His disciples after His resurrection, with St. Peter wading through the water to greet Him. Hungry and tired, the disciples have failed to catch any fish. Christ instructs them to cast their nets on the right side of the boat, and doing so, they find their nets brimming with fish.

Beuckelaer was one of an astonishing 300 painters in Antwerp in the mid-1500s, then a bustling metropolis at the height of its prosperity as a cultural and commercial center of the Netherlands. In 1560 he became a master in the Guild of Saint Luke, the corporation of artists and craftsmen named for the patron saint of painters. While he probably worked on monumental projects for churches, his surviving religious paintings were likely intended for private buyers.

Making a Renaissance Painting is part of the Getty’s continuing series of exhibitions about art-making and conservation techniques, which has also included Making a Medieval Book and Foundry to Finish: In the Studio of Adriaen de Vries.