From such relatively commonplace beginnings in Antwerp, it is not easy to imagine exactly how Gossart came to the attention of Philip of Burgundy, illegitimate son of Duke Philip the Good and admiral of the Burgundian navy. In any event, Gossart found himself in an entourage of sixty men accompanying Philip on an important diplomatic mission at the behest of Margaret of Austria, regent of the Netherlands, to Pope Julius II in Rome. The group set out on October 26, 1508, and, having made stops in Trent, Verona, Mantua, and Florence along the way, arrived in Rome on January 14, 1509.
The goal of the mission was to convince the pope to allow Burgundian rulers to appoint church offices in the Low Countries—a privilege that had been his alone. At hand was the risky matter of balancing power between the papacy and the Burgundian authorities. For this mission, Margaret chose Philip of Burgundy, a consummate diplomat with a humanist education, military accomplishments, and a keen interest in ancient architecture—also an interest of the pontiff's. Philip and Julius found common ground and delighted in each other's pursuits. Meanwhile, Gossart was busy exploring the world of antiquity and recording it for himself and for Philip. (The surviving drawings from that trip are presented in the exhibition.) As Philip's secretary and chaplain Gerard Geldenhouwer wrote in his account of the mission: "Nothing pleased him [Philip] more when he was in Rome than those sacred monuments of antiquity that he commissioned the distinguished artist Jan Gossart of Maubeuge to depict for him."