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Man, Myth, and Sensual Pleasures: Jan Gossart's Renaissance

October 6, 2010–January 17, 2011

Gossart as a Portraitist

Excelling in the study of physiognomy, and displaying his remarkable skill as a painter, Gossart's portraits attain an extraordinary level of realism in the tradition of Jan van Eyck and Hans Memling. Gossart, however, employed compositional strategies that freed his sitters from their shallow spaces, thereby increasing the sense of their three-dimensionality and, in this regard, surpassing the works of his predecessors.

Because of his talent as a portraitist, Gossart was highly sought after by his contemporaries, as evidenced by the large number of portraits in his oeuvre. His output, which reached a high point in the 1520s, demonstrates a wide range, from relatively standard works to extremely ambitious, and probably very costly, commissions, such as the portraits of men now in Berlin and Washington, D.C.—unparalleled achievements in Netherlandish painting of the sixteenth century.

Although the majority are independent works showing distinguished (mostly male) sitters, the group also includes a double portrait, a pair of donor wings, two portraits of children, and a few "disguised" portraits of women as holy figures. No doubt all the richly dressed sitters were privileged members of society, even if today most of their names are lost. Those whose identities are known—Jean Carondelet, Francisco de los Cobos, and Henry III of Nassau—confirm that Gossart moved among the highest, most powerful circles of his time.