FEATURE image: The Satyr at the Farmer’s (“Der Satyr beim Bauern”), Jacob Jordaens (Flemish, 1593-1678), c.1620.
Housing much of the city’s most famous artwork, this museum’s collection includes renowned international works from the 14th through the 18th centuries.
The painting is impressively large. The captivating faces express concern, joy, hope, even confusion. “The Four Holy Men” – Dürer depicts John, Peter (keys), Mark, and Paul (sword) – was a gift to Nuremburg. It was sold under pressure to Bavarian elector Maximillian and given to Munich in 1922.
Jan Gossaert was probably from Maubeuge in France though the artist’s whereabouts are first documented in Antwerp, Belgium, in 1503. His early style is an amalgam of then-popular contemporary French, German, and Netherlandish influences – Hugo van de Goes, Albrecht Dürer, and Gerard David. After a trip to Italy in 1508, Gossaert displayed new flamboyance in his style and detail, particularly using architectual settings as the Alte Pinakothek’s later Danae shows. The northern European Hainault artist never successfully incorporated Italian Renaissance ideas into his artwork and many of his figures’ poses are actually derivative. Yet this level of stylistic incorporation led Gossaert to become an important Romanist. Gossaert was the first northern European artist to introduce nude classical figures into Flanders’ art world.
The Oracle of Delphi prophesied that King Acrisius of Argos would die at the hand of his grandson. To prevent this, the king imprisoned his daughter, Danaë, in an essentially golden cage. However, the King of the gods, Zeus, desired Danaë and came to her by way of a stream of golden rain into her cage where she conceived Perseus. It was Perseus who later, after his own adventures, killed his grandfather by accident during some athletic games.
By the Middle Ages this ancient Greek literary material was used as a pagan reference for the New Testament Annunciation. Gossaert was one of the first artists in the Renaissance period to reintroduce the original subject’s erotic content on its own terms.
Matthias Grünewald was a German painter of the Renaissance. Born Mathias Neithar(d)t-Gothar(d)t around 1470-75, Grünewald shared virtually the exact birth and death dates of fellow German artist, Albrecht Dürer, though the two artists were exact opposites.
Little is known about the life of Grünewald. He first enters the historical record in 1501 in Seligenstadt. It is believed the artist was also early on in Aschaffenburg and as far off as Würzburg. From 1508 to 1514 Grünewald was court painter to Albrecht of Brandenburg (1490–1545), the archbishop of Magdeburg, administrator of Halberstadt, and the archbishop and elector of Mainz (later Cardinal) who commissioned the Alte Pinakothek panel for the Neue Stift in Halle. By the mid1520s Grünewald was in Frankfurt and, apparently increasingly sympathetic to Lutheran doctrine, north to Halle where he died.
Grünewald’s first datable work is from 1503 though Grünewald is best known for his Isenheim Altarpiece in Colmar, France, produced in the mid1510s. Unlike his contemporary, Dürer, Matthias Grünewald apparently attempted no woodcuts, engravings or even many drawings. Like Dürer, he was familiar with Italian Renaissance ideas, though Grünewald did not pursue its techniques for its own ends. Rather, Grünewald was interested in using these new Italian techniques to heighten his own art’s emotional impact as well as make a religious statement. In this sense Grünewald possessed an essentially Late Gothic outlook and style. Yet, besides the passionate, well-drawn, and colorful Isenheim Altarpiece, few paintings of Grünewald survive.
St. Erasmus (or Elmo) was a late Third Century bishop who was martyred under Diocletian around 303 CE. St. Maurice was martyred around 287 CE. Maurice wears the armor signaling his being an officer in a Roman legion which was composed almost entirely of Christians. Along with other officers and rank-and-file soldiers Maurice was slaughtered for refusing to worship the State’s pagan gods.
One of the great artworks of Le Valentin’s early phase in Rome, biblical subjects painted before 1620 such as The Crowning of Thorns of Christ were interpreted in the street-life idiom, with expressive protagonists and bystanders resembling the cast of characters in his genre paintings. Although the painting was earlier believed to be by Caravaggio, it may have been a pendant to Le Valentin’s much-later Abraham Sacrificing Isaac (c. 1629) in The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.
This is Le Valentin’s most ambitious of 3 such “crowning with thorns” pictures. The artist in horizontal-format depicts Jesus before his going to Calvary. Christ is mocked and tormented; a crown of thorns is pressed onto his head (Matthew 27: 27-31; Mark 15:16-21; Luke 23:11; John 19: 1-3). With its dramatic lighting and shadows, the naturalistic depiction of Christ’s body and soldiers in contemporary costume is Caravaggesque.
Le Valentin’s scene adheres to the Bible episode: a whole cohort of soldiers surrounded Jesus, stripped off his clothes and threw a scarlet military cloak on him. Henchmen have weaved a crown out of thorns and are placing it on Jesus’s head. Another puts a reed as a faux scepter into Jesus’s right hand. To mock him they kneel before him and say: “Hail, King of the Jews!” The soldiers spit on Jesus and then take the reed away and strike him repeatedly with it. When they were done with these violent actions, the soldiers stripped Jesus of the military cloak, dressed him in his own clothes and led him out to be crucified.
Le Valentin’s Passion theme is a later vertical-format picture of a subject he had painted masterly before. In these last years the subject matter had gained in classical beauty as well as psychological involvement compared to Le Valentin’s earlier artwork. The painting covers over a discarded portrait of Cardinal Barberini which suggests Valentin’s close relationship with the ecclesial prince, very likely being in his employ. What caused the artist to revisit the subject of a brutalized Christ is unclear though it may have been based on the artist’s own struggles or that of his employer whose portrait he painted over.
Erminia, the king’s daughter, escapes her persecutors and asks a peaceful shepherd family for shelter. The scene is based on a contemporary (1576) epic poem The Liberated Jerusalem by Torquato Tasso (1544-1595). The picture was a private commission whose patron was likely a Roman art collector and cognoscente. Valentin’s painting combines Caravaggesque chiaroscuro with exquisite coloring. In this realistic depiction of a human encounter between characters who represent contrasting social experiences, the subject matter is rendered psychologically sensitively.