Archive for the ‘Renaissance’ Category


Jan Gossaert’s Renaissance: A Nude Dawn

April 24, 2011

The title for the National Gallery’s latest temporary exhibition Jan Gossaert’s Renaissance suggests a high level of artistic individuality and the attribution of special significance to the work of Jan Gossaert. In many respects this is an accurate reflection of his merits and, having suffered the indignity of being largely eschewed from the Northern Renaissance canon, this retrospective exhibition offers a welcome exploration and re-evaluation of the Flemish master.

Broadly speaking, the Renaissance can be split into two artistic and geographical groups: the Italian Renaissance with its philosophy of Humanism and scientific and classically-inspired stylings of proportion and perspective, and the Northern Renaissance with its overriding Gothic aesthetic, realism and attention to minute detail. Born in what is today known as Belgium and patronised by Philip of Burgundy, Gossaert was, geographically, a product of the Northern Renaissance. Uniquely among his peers however, his work came to represent a fusion of Northern and Southern European influences. This aesthetic union is the primary focus of the National Gallery’s exhibition and accordingly, it recounts Gossaert’s artistic evolution in splendid fashion.

Adam and Eve, 1520

In 1508 Gossaert accompanied Philip of Burgundy to Italy on a diplomatic mission to Pope Julius II. Arriving in Rome in 1509, Gossaert’s visit coincided with both Michelangelo’s painting of the Sistine ceiling, and the Pope’s summoning of Raphael. It is tempting to assign special emphasis to the impact of these High Renaissance masters on their Northern contemporary, yet this exhibition suggests otherwise. Whilst not discrediting their influence entirely, it instead maintains that it was Gossaert’s exposure to classical sculpture that, evidenced by the numerous sketches on display, profoundly altered his art culminating in an appreciation of the nude in his subsequent work. Adam and Eve of 1520 is an excellent example of Rome’s influence on Gossaert’s undoubtedly Northern aesthetic: the meticulously detailed landscape complete with elaborate Gothic architecture (in this case a fountain) is a bastion of Northern Renaissance art; the nude figure of Eve recalls the pose of an antique Venus, and Adam, particularly his tensed lower torso, evokes comparison with the Hellenistic sculpture Spinario.

Spinario (detail)

Gossaert's drawing of Spinario, c.1509

The late eighteenth century and France in particular, would later see the sincerity and virtuous qualities of classical sculpture re-vitalised by Neo-classicism in the face of social and artistic hedonism. For Gossaert, however, almost three centuries earlier, the impact of the antique on his Northern aesthetic of detail and realism produced an entirely different effect. His newfound appreciation of the classical nude gave rise to a unique level of earthly sensuality in his paintings. It is the representation of this quality – grounded in a distinctly human psychology – that is the crowning achievement of Jan Gossaert’s Renaissance.

If one re-visits the aforementioned painting Adam and Eve, then Gossaert’s unique corporeal intimacy is evident in their shared embrace, and even more so in a pen and ink representation of the same theme: the couple’s legs are interlinked as they lean in towards one another, their imminent sin represented by their intense, almost passionate grasp of the apple they hold between them.

Adam and Eve, c.1520

The painting Hercules and Deianira (1517) contains a similar physicality. Whilst it is an excellent example of Gossaert’s classical inspiration, both narrative and formal, with its mythological subject and relief-adorned, marble architecture, it is the corporeal sensuality of its characters that is most striking: the lovers’ legs are entwined and their affection made all the more evident by fervent eye contact.

Hercules and Deianeira, 1517

Overall, the success of Jan Gossaert’s Renaissance lies in its clear portrayal of the Flemish master’s exclusive artistic evolution. The rooms are separated by concise colour schemes that demarcate the exhibition into well-defined sections: devotional subjects, portraiture, the erotic nude etc. This makes the potentially composite representation of Gossaert’s unique union of classical and Northern visual language more lucid and accessible. It is a curatorial triumph that has propelled Gossaert out of the shadow of his European contemporaries, granting him his own twenty-first century renaissance.

Jan Gossaert’s Renaissance runs at the National Gallery until May 30 2011. It does incur an admission fee.

Click here for more information.


Raphael at the V&A

October 4, 2010

Welcome to the first blog entry of Der Blaue Writer. My attention this week is drawn to the recent exposure afforded to Italian Renaissance art by the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.

Coinciding with the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the UK, the Vatican have loaned to the V&A their collection of tapestries (c.1516-19) conceived by the High Renaissance master Raphael Santi and woven from his designs by the workshop of Pieter van Aelst in Brussels. The loan of these tapestries for the temporary exhibition Raphael: Cartoons and Tapestries for the Sistine Chapel, has, for the first time, enabled them to be displayed alongside Raphael’s original, full-scale preparatory paintings (c.1515) – or cartoons – that have been on display to the British public since 1865. Given the Vatican’s largely inflexible stance on artistic loans and the extremely delicate nature of the cartoons, this exhibition, in all probability, offers a once in a lifetime opportunity to compare and contrast the work of the Flemish weavers side-by-side with Raphael’s cartoons for the first time in 500 years; Raphael himself never saw the two together.

The Miraculous Draught of the Fishes Tapestry
The Miraculous Draught of the Fishes Cartoon

In modern day thought, the greatest artistic merit is afforded to the “high art” mediums of painting and sculpture whilst the considerable craft of tapestry-making is deemed a lesser art. In the early-sixteenth century however, when the works in this exhibition were designed and made, the humble tapestry stood shoulder-to-shoulder with its artistic contemporaries. The sumptuous use of gold and silver coated silk thread reveals characteristics of grandeur and power. Accordingly, and in specific relation to the tapestries in this exhibition, such materialistic exuberance reflects the wealth and “papal majesty” of the tapestries’ commissioner, Pope Leo X. As a measure of this one need look no further than the fact that these tapestries cost five times the price that Leo’s predecessor, Pope Julius II, paid to commission Michelangelo’s Sistine ceiling.

The delights of the tapestries, however, do not end there. What the juxtapositions in this exhibition have created is a unique opportunity to revel in the details of a disparaged artistic medium. Displayed alongside their preceding cartoons, the finer points of the tapestries are notable in comparison: the accentuated detail in foliage, facial hair and fishing nets is distinguishable. Furthermore, the use of luxurious materials has left a lasting vibrancy in the tapestries’ colour whereas Raphael’s works on paper have, to a greater extent, faded with time. Conversely though, perspective (the great Renaissance triumph) that is so evident in Raphael’s cartoons seems diminished in the tapestries – the vibrancy of the thread and the intricacy of the work draws the eye throughout the whole composition; it gives the background details prominence and seemingly reduces the artwork to a single plane. Despite this solitary shortcoming, the tapestries are without doubt a beautiful amalgamation of Flemish and Italian mastery that is rarely, if ever seen in Renaissance art. Set in the V&A there is no better place in the country to appreciate and understand their place in history. And by this I am of course referring to the museum’s relatively new Medieval & Renaissance Galleries (opened December 2009) that, in showcasing artworks such as Donatello’s exquisite The Ascension with Christ giving the Keys to St. Peter (c.1428-30) and Michelangelo’s The Slave (c.1516-19), ideally situate the Raphael exhibition within the chronology of the Renaissance canon.

The exhibition Raphael: Cartoons and Tapestries for the Sistine Chapel will close on October 17 2010.

To book your free ticket (I would advise you to do this prior to visiting) go to