Sunday, October 17, 2010

Jan Gossart Known as Mabuse

The demise of the international traveling exhibition has long been heralded, but after 9-11-2001 it was said that they could definitely no longer occur. Yet, in 2010 you can find in almost every major city fabulous shows bringing together great works of art from all over. Works are brought together not just for the sake of the public, but also so that art historians can compare works that they have never seen together. This allows them to trace the development of the artist and distinguish between versions of the pictures, determining whether they are by the artist himself or a follower. Photographs are no substitute for the original as they only tell a small portion of the story.

Many of these exhibitions are worth traveling to see, but what luck when a great show is right in your own back yard where you can visit and revisit it. So it is with “Man, Myth and Sensual Pleasures: Jan Gossart’s Renaissance” an exhibition which opened recently at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The exhibition brilliantly curated by Maryan Ainsworth will be on view until January 17, 2011 and then go on to the National Gallery in London.

The exhibition shows the development of Jan Gossart (Maubeuge 1478 - Antwerp? 1532) and demonstrates how he was a major force in bringing the Renaissance to Northern Europe. His visit to Rome in 1508-09 in the entourage of his patron Philip of Burgundy was a decisive influence on his work. We see this in a gallery showing classical antique sculpture along with Gossart’s related drawings. (Image with captions)

As mentioned in last week’s “Missive”, I believe that the visitor should walk through and look at an entire exhibition before singling out works to study further. What do you do, however, when there are so many wonderful works of art that draw you in? You will find that each time you go through the show another aspect of the story is revealed.

The loans here are amazing, and not just Gossarts. There are drawings and prints by Durer, a first class Jan van Eyck and Gerard David and many others. How was this all managed? Next week I will discuss the curatorial role and the curator that brought these works together.

Monographic exhibitions are the most difficult because the curator is always tempted to borrow and show as many works as possible by the artist. By neglecting the selection process the goal of the exhibition is often lost. I have gone to monographic exhibitions of artists I believed I loved, only to find that by the end I thought less of them.

In this case it is slightly easier since there are only 63 panel paintings known, and at the Met we can see 50 of them. The the show also has clearly delineated subject headings in each gallery, and within the category the works are juxtaposed to other works by the artist or related works by other artists. The labels are excellent and if you cannot figure out what the relationship between works is you need only read the label to make things clear.

While we have often been shown drawings and prints related to a painting, it is unusual to see related sculpture. Two of my favorite examples are sculptures by the German artist Conrad Meit (Worms 1475 - Antwerp, 1550/1). Gossart and Meit worked together in both the courts of Philip of Burgundy and Margaret of Austria. So there is no question that Meit’s sculpture was influential in the sculptural style of Gossart’s paintings. The juxtapositions are so compelling that the three examples that I had picked before even opening the catalog were already available in jpegs from the museum.

A stunning example is a small boxwood figure of Lucretia by Conrad Meit done between 1500 and 1515 and a painting of Venus and Cupid done by Gossart in 1521. Though the painting with its integral frame is twice as large as the sculpture, by setting them off in a case by themselves, the relationship between the similarly twisted fleshy torsos is made obvious.

The other telling comparison is a Conrad Meit marble Virgin and Child done between 1531 and 1534 that I had not seen before from the Brussels cathedral and a Gossart painting dating circa 1527 of roughly the same dimensions. Here it seems Meit was looking at Gossart’s work: note the texture of the hair and folds of the garments.

All that has been discovered about the artist and his time is covered in the catalog. But it is no substitute for going to see this exhibition that allows you to make visual discoveries for yourself.