For a biography of Jan Gossart, see Maryan W. Ainsworth, "Jan Gossart (ca. 1478–1532) and His Circle." In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–.The Painting:
In Karel van Mander’s biography of Jan Gossart published in 1604, he wrote: “Among’s other things, when in the service of the Marquis of Veere, Mabuse painted an image of Mary in which the face was painted after the Marquis’s wife and the little child after her child. The piece was so outstandingly subtle, and painted so purely, that everything else one sees by him appears crude by comparison. And there was a blue drapery, so absolutely clear that it looked as if it were freshly painted. This piece was later seen in Gouda with the Lord of Froiment.”
The Marquis of Veere was Adolf of Burgundy, Admiral of Zeeland (ca. 1489–1540), by whom Gossart was employed, living for a period of time in Veere, on the island of Walcheren in the Schelde estuary. The Marquis married Anna van Bergen (1492–1541) in 1509, and they had three sons and as many daughters. The identification here of Lady Veere and her son Hendrik (born September 26, 1519), in the guise of the Virgin and Child, is based on surviving portraits of her. There are four extant images of Anna. One is a drawing in the Recueil d’Arras
(Médiathèque d’Arras, Arras; see fig. 1 above), and there are three painted portraits (Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Mass., fig. 2; Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston; and the MacNay Art Museum, San Antonio). The child depicted here appears to be about two years old. If it is indeed a depiction of Hendrik, Anna’s youngest son, then this suggests that the painting was produced in about 1522, when Anna was barely thirty years old.
This identification presents some difficulties, however, as the physiognomies of the Virgin and that of Anna van Bergen do not match precisely. As Lorne Campbell pointed out (2008, p. 132), the shape and proportion of the heads, the double chin, and the rather thick neck are similar, but the portrait of Anna shows a thinner upper lip and a more pointed and larger nose than her counterpart in The Met’s painting. More important, perhaps, they both have green eyes and brown hair, and in this respect they are closer in appearance to each other than the Virgin is to any of Gossart’s other Virgin types, where the norm is light brown or golden tresses, and more refined, delicately formed facial features. If The Met’s painting shows an idealized portrait of Anna, then perhaps Van Mander’s statement can be taken at face value.
The practice of representing mere mortals as holy figures—whether the Virgin, Mary Magdalen, or certain saints—developed in the mid-fifteenth century and became even more popular in the early sixteenth century, especially in courtly circles (Campbell 1990, pp. 3, 137; Mensger 2002, p. 166). In the seventeenth century, this kind of portrait in which a person appears in the guise of a historical, mythological, biblical, or legendary person was dubbed a portrait historié
. In the case discussed here, Anna van Bergen likely wished to be associated with the virtuous character of the Virgin. Not initially perceived as a potentially blasphemous custom, by the end of the sixteenth century this practice received increasing disapproval and was eventually eliminated and banned by church authorities and theologians.The Attribution and Date:
Although the original of Anna van Bergen and her son, Hendrik, portrayed as the Virgin and Child seems without doubt to have been painted by Gossart, only copies remain. The Met’s version appears to be the best surviving example of these, based on its proximity to Gossart’s style and technique. Like many of his portraits, Gossart was influenced here by Hans Memling’s compositional device of placing figures before a trompe-l’oeil frame, as in the portraits of Tommaso Portinari and Maria Baroncelli (14.40.626–627
). The present work adds to this a reddish brown marble background panel that sets off the pearly flesh tones of the figures and visually projects them forward into the space of the viewer. The two dozen or more copies of this painting achieve the same effect, to varying degrees of success (Ainsworth 2010, p. 240 n. 6). These versions date well into the sixteenth century, attesting to the popularity of this composition, although it remains a mystery why so many were produced.
The details of the execution and handling of The Met’s painting closely follow those found in Gossart’s autograph works (see forthcoming Technical Notes), but they vary to a degree that indicates the hand of a follower. This can be noticed especially in the less subtle modeling of the flesh tones, harder contours of forms, and shortcuts taken in rendering details such as the eyes or pearls. Another feature that is evident here, but not noted so far in any other paintings attributed to Gossart that have been technically studied, is a grayish imprimatura. This is revealed through examination using a stereomicroscope in thin passages of paint and is apparent in the infrared reflectograms as darkish, streaky brushed on applications in the preparatory layers (figs. 3, 4). Also not otherwise noted in Gossart’s painting technique to date is the use of smalt for the underlying blue layer over which there is an ultramarine glaze for the Virgin’s mantle (see forthcoming Technical Notes). The latter is probably largely responsible for the ashy mottled appearance of the Virgin’s blue mantle, characteristic of the deterioration of ultramarine. Although highly prevalent in seventeenth-century northern European, especially Dutch, paintings, smalt has now been found earlier in paintings of the beginning of the sixteenth century. Therefore, there appears to be little to counter the supposition that this painting dates sometime after 1522, but perhaps even within Gossart’s lifetime.
The underdrawing comprises several vertical and horizontal inscribed lines that appear to have served the purpose of placing the figures within the space. In addition, very fine drawing restricted to the contours of the figures indicates the possible use of a transferred cartoon. It is most likely that Gossart’s lost original inspired the production of copies made to be sold on the open market. Several of the versions show that the preliminary design was transferred by either tracing or pouncing, an indication of streamlined workshop production. Although such production may have begun locally wherever Gossart was working at the time, it seems eventually to have become part of wider manufacture and distribution, especially in Antwerp where popular compositions were mass-produced to meet market demand.
Maryan W. Ainsworth 2020, adapted and updated from Ainsworth 2010
 Karel Van Mander, The Lives of the Illustrious Netherlandish and German Painters, from the First Edition of the Schilder-boek (1603–4)…
, Hessel Miedema, 6 vols., Doornspijk, 1604/1994–99, vol. 1 (1994), pp. 160–61, fol. 225v, lines 30–35.
 See also, Friedrich B. Polleross, Das Sakrale Identifiikationsportrait: Ein höfischer Bildtypus vom 13. bis zum 20. Jahrundert
, 2 vols., Worms, 1988.
 Rudie van Leeuwen, “The portrait historié
in religious context and its condemnation,” in Katlijne Van der Stighelen, Hannelore Magnus, Bert Watteeuw, eds., Pokerfaced: Flemish and Dutch Baroque Faces Unveiled
, Turnhout, 2011, pp. 109–24.
 Leeuwen 2011, pp. 111–15.
 Marika Spring, “New insights into the materials of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Netherlandish paintings of the National Gallery, London,” Heritage Science
(Spring 2017), n.p. (open access).
 Among those showing evidence of a cartoon transfer are those in the Courtauld Institute of Art, London, and in a private collection in Great Britain (formerly in the Bob Haboldt collection).