CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Man, Myth, and Sensual Pleasures: Jan Gossart’s Renaissance

Exhibition: 6 October 2010 - 17 January 2011

From the museum press release, 24 September 2010

The first major exhibition in 45 years devoted to Jan Gossart (ca. 1478-1532)- one of the most innovative artists of the Burgundian-Habsburg Netherlands—will be on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art beginning October 6, 2010. Man, Myth, and Sensual Pleasures: Jan Gossart’s Renaissance will bring together the majority of Gossart’s paintings, drawings, and prints, and place them in the context of the influences on his transformation from Late Gothic Mannerism to the new Renaissance mode. Gossart was among the first northern artists to travel to Rome to make copies after antique sculpture and monuments and to introduce biblical and mythological subjects with erotic nude figures into the mainstream of northern painting. Most often credited with successfully assimilating Italian Renaissance style into northern European art of the early 16th century, he is the pivotal Old Master who redirected the course of early Flemish painting from the legacy of its founder, Jan van Eyck, and charted new territory that eventually led to the great age of Rubens.

Jan Gossart has not been the focus of a monographic exhibition since 1965 (in Rotterdam and Bruges) and has never before been the subject of an exhibition in the United States. Man, Myth, and Sensual Pleasures: Jan Gossart’s Renaissance will be divided into eight sections and will comprise approximately 145 works, including 50 of the artist’s 63 known paintings, 35 drawings, and six prints from U.S. and international collections. In order to consider Gossart within his artistic milieu, other works on view will include antique and Renaissance sculpture, paintings by contemporaries Gerard David and Bernard van Orley, and prints and drawings by artists such as Marcantonio Raimondi, Dirk Vellert, Lucas van Leyden, Albrecht Dürer, and Jacopo de’Barbari. A number of works in the exhibition have been borrowed from various curatorial departments at the Metropolitan Museum, such as European Sculpture and Decorative Arts, Drawings and Prints, the Lehman Collection, and Greek and Roman Art.

Among the many highlights from Gossart’s oeuvre in the exhibition will be the Virgin and Child with Musical Angels and Saints Catherine and Dorothy (Malvagna Triptych), an exquisite gem-like altarpiece that is Gossart’s only surviving intact triptych, on rare loan from the Galleria Regionale della Sicilia in Palermo, Italy; the stunning Saint Luke Drawing the Virgin from the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna; the magnificent Deesis panel on exceptional loan from the Prado; the Carondelet Diptych, considered one of the masterpieces of early Netherlandish portraiture, from the Musée du Louvre; the Elderly Couple, an astonishing study of old age painted on parchment from the National Gallery in London; and Portrait of a Man (Jan Jacobsz. Snoeck?), a remarkably well-preserved painting from the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., that represents the peak of Gossart’s artistic achievement.

About the artist

Gossart was born in Maubeuge, today in Northern France, in about 1478. Mabuse is the Dutch name for Maubeuge, and thus developed the sobriquet of the artist. Nothing is known about where Jan Gossart or “Mabuse” trained as a painter, but documents verify that he became a member of the painters’ Guild in Antwerp in 1503. From 1508-1509, Gossart traveled to Rome with the important court diplomat Philip of Burgundy, who was an envoy to Pope Julius II at the Vatican on behalf of Margaret of Austria, Regent of the Netherlands. Influenced by the antique and modern Italian art that he encountered on his sojourn in Rome, he became a key adherent and promoter of the art of biblical and mythological subjects represented by nude figures. For northern painters and their patrons rooted in the traditional manner and themes of the late Gothic period, the new style that Gossart brought back from Rome must have appeared shockingly avant-garde; and for the Humanists of the time, Gossart was perhaps the first truly Renaissance painter or “Romanist” in the north.

Upon his return from Rome, Gossart settled in Middleburg, but apparently also spent time in Bruges working with Gerard David (ca. 1455-1523), the city’s leading painter. The nature of this collaboration has not been previously recognized, but the technical examination of several of the paintings recently undertaken for this exhibition has helped to clarify the specific relationship between Gossart and David. Gossart also produced large- and small-scale works of mythological themes with thinly veiled erotic content (a number of which will be on view) at the request of his patron, Philip of Burgundy. The impact of the lessons he learned in Rome as well as a friendship with the court sculptor, Conrad Meit, led Gossart to pursue an increasingly sculptural exploration of the human body in his works and the relationship of figures to each other.

Gossart’s extraordinary technique and execution, as well as his novel approach to both traditional and new themes in his art, made for a particularly successful career. He received commissions from some of the most noted patrons of his day, including Philip of Burgundy, Margaret of Austria, Christian II of Denmark, and Henry of Nassau and his wife Mencía de Mendoza.

Exhibition Overview

Man, Myth, and Sensual Pleasures: Jan Gossart’s Renaissance will be divided into eight sections and will trace the main areas of Gossart’s achievements. The first section will be devoted to his earliest work as a key proponent of Antwerp Mannerism, represented chiefly by his drawings. Section two will feature the 1508-1509 trip to Rome and will exhibit Gossart’s surviving drawings of antique sculpture and monuments that he made at the request of Philip of Burgundy.

Section three will highlight Gossart’s Bruges period and his collaboration with Gerard David, the leading painter there at the time. Section four will introduce the humanist court of Gossart’s chief patron, Philip of Burgundy, and Philip’s interest in mythological themes presented in a highly sensuous manner in such works as Hercules and Deianira, Venus, and Venus and Cupid. Section five follows the developing erotic nature of his art as well as Gossart’s further assimilation of Italian Renaissance style in themes of both the Virgin and Child and Adam and Eve. Section six presents Gossart’s often poignant expression of themes associated with the Passion of Christ, and demonstrates with the Deesis and the so-called Salamanca Triptych wings that Gossart worked simultaneously in the Late High Gothic and the Italian Renaissance style, according to the stipulations of various commissions. Section seven will feature drawings, many of which have never been seen together, that show Gossart’s designs for a variety of media, including paintings, prints, metalwork, tomb sculpture, and stained glass. The final section of the exhibition will be devoted to portraiture. Gossart’s close study of physiognomy and his extraordinary technique and execution in paint set him apart from his contemporaries in this genre. Portraits dating from Gossart’s earliest to his latest period will demonstrate his efforts to achieve unrivaled verisimilitude in representations of his contemporaries, creating personages that appear physically to emerge from the confines of their frames.

Technical Research

Some of the most important contributions to the exhibition and catalogue will include technical examinations of Gossart’s paintings that curator Maryan Ainsworth has undertaken in collaboration with colleagues at many museums over the last three years. These methods of examination include infrared reflectography, x-radiography, pigment analysis, and microscope examination.

This research has resulted in a far more precise evaluation of questions of attribution and dating, and of versions and copies. It also provides a clearer understanding of Gossart’s working procedures, a closer study of the relationship between Gossart’s surviving drawings on paper and the underdrawings on his panel paintings, and of the evolution of style in his works. This unprecedented research on Gossart has resulted in a re-evaluation of the artist’s evolution in technique as he aimed to produce new and different visual effects in his paintings. A video presentation accompanying the exhibition will highlight some of these findings.

Curatorial Credits

The exhibition is conceived and organized by Maryan Ainsworth, Curator in the Metropolitan Museum’s Department of European Paintings. After its presentation at the Metropolitan Museum, a smaller version of the exhibition will be mounted at The National Gallery in London from February 23 through May 30, 2011.

Catalogue and Related Programs

The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue edited by Maryan Ainsworth. This will provide a new catalogue raisonné on the artist with contributions by Ainsworth, Stijn Alsteens, and Nadine Orenstein of the Metropolitan Museum, Lorne Campbell of the National Gallery, London, Stephanie Schrader of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Matt Kavaler of the University of Toronto, and Peter Klein of the University of Hamburg. It will be published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Yale University Press and will be available in the Museum’s bookshops.

Related events

News about this exhibition