More About the Exhibition
In the early sixteenth century, the Burgundian-Habsburg Netherlands—a geographical area that once encompassed present-day Belgium, Holland, and parts of Germany and France—experienced the rise of humanism, the birth of the Reformation, and constant struggles of territorial expansion among the ruling dynasties of Western Europe. The future Holy Roman Emperor Charles V was born in Ghent in 1500. After the untimely death of his father, Philip the Fair, in 1506, he was raised by his aunt, Margaret of Austria, governor general and regent of the Netherlands, who held court in Mechelen. The economic power of Bruges was waning as Antwerp assumed new prominence, and artists traveled from place to place to establish a livelihood in the burgeoning art markets of the major Northern cities.
Among the most innovative artists of this period was Jan Gossart (ca. 1478–1532), also known as Jenni Antwerpen, Jennin Gossart, Mabuse, and Johannes Malbodius. The latter two of these sobriquets indicate his town of origin, Maubeuge, today in northern France. In 1503 Gossart joined the painters' guild in Antwerp, where he trained two apprentices. His sojourn in Rome in 1508–9 in the entourage of Philip of Burgundy, illegitimate son of Duke Philip the Good, on a diplomatic mission to Pope Julius II, brought him fame.
He was one of the first Northern artists to experience firsthand the art of antiquity, to make drawings after Greek and Roman sculpture and monuments, and to assimilate this new awareness of the ancient world into his work. Gossart was much heralded at the time for introducing to Northern art depictions of biblical and mythological subjects (historie and poesie) with nude figures. At the humanist courts where he worked—in particular, for Philip of Burgundy—he was lauded as the "Apelles of our age," comparing him to the most famous painter of antiquity. Influenced by his pivotal trip to Rome, Gossart redirected the course of early Netherlandish painting from the legacy of its founder, Jan van Eyck, and charted new territory that eventually led to the great age of Peter Paul Rubens.
The current exhibition is the first reappraisal in more than forty-five years of the extraordinary achievements of this versatile master. Viewed in the context of his contemporary milieu, Gossart is celebrated as an artist of unsurpassed skill and remarkable originality. Technical examinations of the majority of his works have informed a reconsideration of his innovations as a painter, draftsman, and printmaker.