Attributed to Simon Bening (Netherlandish, Ghent (?) 1483/84–1561 Bruges)
Oil on wood
Overall 10 x 8 1/4 in. (25.4 x 21 cm), with added strip of 3/8 in. (1 cm) at top; painted surface 9 5/8 x 8 1/4 in. (24.4 x 21 cm)
The Friedsam Collection, Bequest of Michael Friedsam, 1931
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 640
Bening, a celebrated miniaturist, has taken the Virgin and Child from David's Rest on the Flight into Egypt (displayed nearby) and placed them in a different context. Joseph is absent, and there is no overt reference to the journey of the Holy Family. Thus, in keeping with a contemporary trend toward the secularization of religious scenes, Mary is presented as the very model of a nurturing mother. A stream of milk flows from her breast to the lips of the Child, who turns toward the viewer and gestures with a spoon, linking physical nourishment with the spiritual nourishment he offers.
The focus of this painting is the maternal tenderness that the Virgin shows her son. She is surrounded by symbolic attributes: the wall upon which she sits and that encloses a garden is a sign of her purity; the mint that grows to either side of her is a healing plant, indicative of her virtue; and the violets that grow below the mint signal her humility. Milk flows from the breast that the Virgin offers to the Child, but he turns to the viewer and gestures with a wooden spoon, linking physical nourishment with the spiritual nourishment he offers. This depiction of the Virgin and Child relates to images of the Rest on the Flight into Egypt, and the figures are directly excerpted from David’s painting of this subject in the Museum’s collection (MMA 49.7.21), or possibly its replica in the Prado, Madrid. However, there is no further direct reference to the Flight, and Saint Joseph is not present.
Although originally believed to be the work of Gerard David, the discrepancies between this painting and David’s known style and handling have led to a revised identification of the artist as an assistant in David’s workshop. The porcelain-like flesh is created by a denser application of paint, rather than David’s more gradual modeling, and the features of the Virgin are somewhat stylized, with crescent-shaped slit eyes, round dimpled chin, and short, sparse eyebrows. Furthermore, the brushwork of the Virgin’s hair is formulaic and the generalized treatment of the hands does not reflect David’s abilities to create skeletal structure. Most striking is the landscape, which differs entirely from David’s known oeuvre. Instead it is characteristic of Simon Bening, who is known for his innovations in landscape, especially in manuscript illumination of the Ghent-Bruges school. His landscapes are characterized by a stylized depiction of plants in the foreground that separate the figures from the distant landscape. A standard Bening landscape, as exemplified by this painting, includes gray rock masses and trees at the left, a vignette of a small house or castle by a body of water at the right in the middle distance, and a pale blue view of hills or mountains in the far distance. The trees consist of round clusters of branches that are uniform in their placement (Ainsworth 1998). Bening is known to have incorporated Davidian figures within his own landscapes in other work by his hand. The Virgin and Child in the Prado, Madrid is believed by some scholars to be by the same artist as the MMA painting. Ainsworth (1999 and 2002) recognizes the Museum’s panel as part of the evolution of Simon Bening from manuscript illuminator to panel painter, with his paintings on parchment mounted on wood as an intermediary stage, and this painting, in oil on oak, fitting into the final stage of this development. The underdrawing, revealed by infrared reflectography, consists of a light sketch, probably in black chalk, reinforced with a brush and liquid medium, with some minor corrections.
Claramonte family, condes de La Bisbal, Madrid; R. Traumann, Madrid (until 1914); [Agnew, London, 1914–16]; [Duveen, New York, 1916–18]; Michael Friedsam, New York (1918–d. 1931)
New York. F. Kleinberger Galleries. 1929, no. 32 (as by Gerard David, lent by Col. Michael Friedsam).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Michael Friedsam Collection," November 15, 1932–April 9, 1933, no catalogue.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Gerard David: Flanders's Last Medieval Master," April 1–May 9, 1972, no catalogue?
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "From Van Eyck to Bruegel: Early Netherlandish Painting in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," September 22, 1998–February 21, 1999, no. 83.
Max J. Friedländer. Letter to Mr. Duveen. October 4, 1920, calls it an extraordinarily fine example of David's art and observes that the composition is "nearly the same" as in his paintings of the Rest on the Flight into Egypt in the Bosch collection (now Prado, Madrid) and the MMA.
Martin Conway. The Van Eycks and Their Followers. London, 1921, p. 286 n. 1, mentions this panel as a half-length replica, from the master's studio, of the painting in the Bosch collection.
Max J. Friedländer. Von Eyck bis Bruegel: Studien zur Geschichte der niederländischen Malerei. 2nd ed. [first ed. 1916]. Berlin, 1921, p. 191.
Max J. Friedländer. Die altniederländische Malerei. Vol. 6, Memling und Gerard David. Berlin, 1928, p. 154, no. 212c, considers it an excellent copy with a strange landscape.
Max J. Friedländer in The Michael Friedsam Collection. [completed 1928], p. 139, considers the picture "worthy of the master and . . . in his manner, with the exception of the somewhat strange landscape".
Bryson Burroughs and Harry B. Wehle. "The Michael Friedsam Collection: Paintings." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 27, section 2 (November 1932), p. 24, ill. p. 23, ascribe it to a follower of Gerard David noting that the color and finish are smoother and more porcelanous than in David's work.
Harry B. Wehle and Margaretta Salinger. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Early Flemish, Dutch and German Paintings. New York, 1947, pp. 97–98, ill., ascribe it to a follower of David, observing that "the porcelain-like finish and the individual treatment of the foliage . . . betray the hand of an imitator, presumably a contemporary of David".
Ferdinando Bologna. "Nuove attribuzioni a Jan Provost." Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts Bulletin 5 (1956), p. 29 n. 18.
Georges Marlier. Ambrosius Benson et la peinture à Bruges au temps de Charles-Quint. Damme, Belgium, 1957, p. 109, compares it with a half-length Madonna and Child in the Baare collection, Godesberg, which he ascribes to Benson, and notes that the undulating waves of the hair on our Madonna are not found in David's work, but are reminiscent of the treatment of the Virgin's hair in the Godesberg picture.
Erik Larsen. Les primitifs flamands au Musée Metropolitain de New York. Utrecht, 1960, p. 7, notes incorrectly that this painting was attributed to David by Wehle and Salinger [see Ref. 1947], and states that he omitted the picture from his manuscript because he doubted its authenticity.
Colin Eisler. "Erik Larsen, Les primitifs flamands au Musée Metropolitain de New York, 1960." Art Bulletin 46 (March 1964), p. 100, observes that this painting was "quite correctly published by Wehle-Salinger as the work of a David imitator".
Edwin James Mundy III. "Gerard David Studies." PhD diss., Princeton University, 1980, pp. 33, 52 n. 53, p. 195 n. 69, ascribes it to David himself; identifies the subject as The Rest on the Flight and suggests that small panels of the subject were painted without a specific commission and were sold to clients in the shop.
Thomas Kren. Flämischer Kalender / Flemish Calendar / Simon Bening. Facsimile ed. Lucerne, 1987–88, pp. 203–23.
Hans J. van Miegroet. Gerard David. Antwerp, 1989, p. 265 n. 63, p. 302, no. 35b, catalogues it as related to David's Rest on the Flight into Egypt paintings.
Jean C. Wilson. "Connoisseurship and Copies: The Case of the Rouen Grouping." Gazette des beaux-arts, 6th ser., 118 (May–June 1991), pp. 192, 199, 204 n. 8.
Maryan W. Ainsworth. "A Meeting of Sacred and Secular Worlds." From Van Eyck to Bruegel: Early Netherlandish Painting in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Ed. Maryan W. Ainsworth and Keith Christiansen. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1998, pp. 312–13, no. 83, ill. (color), catalogues the picture as "Attributed to Simon Bening," about 1520, and notes that the figures are excerpted from David's compositions of the Rest on the Flight into Egypt while the landscape is characteristic of Bening.
Maryan W. Ainsworth. Gerard David: Purity of Vision in an Age of Transition. New York, 1998, pp. 287–88, ill. (color).
Jean C. Wilson. Paintings in Bruges at the Close of the Middle Ages: Studies in Society and Visual Culture. University Park, Pa., 1998, pp. 91, 102–3, 219 n. 17, fig. 42, dates it about 1520–30.
Maryan W. Ainsworth. "Some Theories about Paper and Parchment as Supports for Early Netherlandish Paintings." Le dessin sous-jacent et la technologie dans la peinture. Ed. Hélène Verougstraete et al. Colloque 12, Louvain-la-Neuve, 1999, p. 259, fig. 7, publishes our panel and a Virgin and Child in the Prado, Madrid, as Attributed to Simon Bening, seeing them as a natural evolution by this artist from manuscript illumination, to paintings on parchment mounted on wood, to panel painting.
Francisco Fernández Pardo et al., ed. Las tablas flamencas en la ruta Jacobea. Exh. cat., Claustro de la Iglesia de Palacio, Logroño. San Sebastián, Spain, 1999, p. 358.
Maryan W. Ainsworth. "Commentary: An Integrated Approach." Early Netherlandish Painting at the Crossroads: A Critical Look at Current Methodologies. Ed. Maryan W. Ainsworth. New York, 2001, pp. 118–19, pl. 15 (color).
Maryan W. Ainsworth. "Was Simon Bening a Panel Painter?" Corpus of Illuminated Manuscripts 11–12 (2002), p. 1 n. 6, pp. 2, 4, 6, 12–13, 15, 17, ill. (color).
Maryan W. Ainsworth in Thomas Kren and Scot McKendrick. Illuminating The Renaissance: The Triumph of Flemish Manuscript Painting in Europe. Exh. cat., J. Paul Getty Museum. Los Angeles, 2003, pp. 43, 453–54, no. 142, ill. (color).
Maryan W. Ainsworth. "'Diverse patterns pertaining to the crafts of painters or illuminators': Gerard David and the Bening Workshop." Master Drawings 41, no. 3 (2003), p. 265.