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Jan Gossart, called Mabuse (?Maubeuge c. 1478-1532 ?Antwerp)
PROPERTY OF AN IMPORTANT PRIVATE COLLECTION
Jan Gossart, called Mabuse (?Maubeuge c. 1478-1532 ?Antwerp)

The Virgin and Child

Details
Jan Gossart, called Mabuse (?Maubeuge c. 1478-1532 ?Antwerp)
The Virgin and Child
oil on panel
17 5/8 x 13 3/8 in. (44.6 x 33.9 cm.)
Provenance
with Kunsthandel Cassirer, Berlin.
Mr. Alfred Hausammann (d. 2002), Zurich, from 1955 to 2002, on loan to the Kunsthaus, Zurich, from 1960 to 2001; (†), Christie's, London, 10 July 2002, lot 97, as 'Studio of Gossaert'.
Private collection, England.
Anonymous sale; Koller, Zurich, 28 March 2014, lot 3017, where acquired by the present owner.
Literature
S. Herzog, Jan Gossart called Mabuse (ca. 1478-1532): A Study of His Chronology with a Catalogue of His Works, PhD dissertation, Bryn Mawr, 1968, pp. 371-372, no. 94, under 'Misattributions'.
J. Sander, 'Anmerkungen zu Gossaert', in J.F. Hamburger, A.S. Korteweg and J.M. Marrow, eds., Tributes to James H. Marrow: Studies in Late Medieval and Renaissance Painting and Manuscript Illumination, Turnhout, 2006, pp. 421-430.
M.W. Ainsworth, ed., Man, Myth, and Sensual Pleasures: Jan Gossart's Renaissance: The Complete Works, New York, 2010, pp. 182-183, no. 19, illustrated.
Exhibited
Schaffhausen, Museum zu Allerheiligen, Meisterwerke Flämischer Malerei, 1955, no. 45.
Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen; Bruges, Groeningemuseum, Jan Gossaert, 15 May-31 August 1965, no. 30.
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art; London, The National Gallery, Man, Myth, and Sensual Pleasures: Jan Gossart's Renaissance, 5 October 2010-30 May 2011, no. 19.

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Lot Essay

This stunning representation of the Virgin and Child was painted by Jan Gossart toward the end of his life, a time when he was championed as the 'Apelles of our Age' by Philip of Burgundy’s court poet and humanist, Gerard Geldenhouwer (see M.W. Ainsworth, “Introduction: Jan Gossart, the ‘Apelles of Our Age’, in M.W. Ainsworth ed., op. cit., p. 3). The Virgin looks at Christ, her expression one of maternal devotion tinged with sorrow. Framed by wavy hair dotted with gold highlights, her youthful face is as nacreous as the single pearl that punctuates her forehead and symbolizes her purity. The delicate fingers of her right hand gently restrain her son, whose muscular body is fraught with restless energy as he attempts to wriggle free. His pose is a nod to the figure of Laocoön (fig. 1) from the famed antique sculptural group, which was unearthed in 1506 and which Gossart would have likely seen during his Roman sojourn of 1508-09. Gossart traveled to the Italian peninsula as part of a diplomatic mission led by his patron, Philip of Burgundy, and his studies of the Eternal City’s ancient monuments and sculptures had a profound impact on both his own art as well as that of his contemporary Netherlandish artists with whom he shared his discoveries upon his return to the North (see S. Schrader, 'Drawing for Diplomacy: Gossart’s Sojourn in Rome', in ibid., pp. 45-55). While Christ’s fidgety demeanor speaks of childish exuberance, his gaze reminds us that he is no ordinary infant. The connection between Christ and the spectator is further reinforced by the position of Mary’s left hand. While her thumb and middle finger encircle her child’s chubby foot, her index finger points beyond the picture plane, thereby creating a visual bridge between Christ and the viewer—and by extension, reminding us of her role as the spiritual bridge between her son and mankind.

Mother and Child share this moment within an elegant setting, replete with fanciful, eclectic architectural elements, including a pair of slender marble columns housed in mismatched cases of gold fretwork. Typical of Gossart’s particularly imaginative interpretation of Antwerp Mannerism, the latter recalls his whimsical vision of Gothicism as captured in the graceful tracery of the canopy in the Malvagna Triptych of c. 1513-15 (fig. 2; Galleria Regionale della Sicilia, Palazzo Abatellis, Palermo). Beyond the elaborate combination of colorful stone and gleaming metal portrayed in the present picture, spandrels, moldings and other details executed in cool gray stone fill the background. All together these components appear to form an architectonic throne, although the precise nature of the structure is difficult to determine. Adding to the luxurious atmosphere are the jewel tones of the Virgin’s gown and mantle, as well as the embellished devotional book on which Christ rests his right hand. The book, which features a handsome contemporary Flemish binding, is tooled in blind with central boss and corner-pieces. Offering yet another opportunity for Gossart to demonstrate his talent for foreshortening, a slip of vellum juts forth from between the book’s pages. Neatly inscribed in red and black ink, the lines on this manuscript indulgence prayer scroll are still discernible but no longer legible.

Hidden away in a Swiss private collection for decades, the present Virgin and Child was misunderstood by early scholars. Following its reemergence in 2002 at Christie’s, London, it was studied in 2008 by Maryan Ainsworth in the Conservation Studio at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, where it became clear that it was a late, autograph work by Jan Gossart (ibid., p. 182, note 6). Its place within the artist’s oeuvre was fully appreciated in the 2010 exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the National Gallery, London. In the corresponding catalogue, Ainsworth argues that the present work is especially close, both in terms of composition and style, to the Cleveland Museum of Art’s Virgin and Child (fig. 3), which is signed and dated 1531. In particular, Ainsworth draws attention to the sculptural quality of the Virgin’s veil in these paintings, as well as to her 'sweet countenance and demurely downcast eyes' (loc. cit.). Also common to both pictures is the Herculean Christ Child with an unusually large head and tendency to squirm. She places both works in a group of late Virgin and Child paintings by Gossart dating from around 1525-30, which includes the Virgin and Child formerly in a London private collection and recently sold at Sotheby’s, London, 9 December 2015, lot 6 (£4,629,000). Dating to 1520, this latter painting reveals Gossart’s profound appreciation of Italian art, as attested to by the relatively sober setting and the Virgin and Child’s resemblance to their counterparts in Michelangelo’s Bruges Madonna (fig. 4), which was installed in the Onze Lieve-Vrouwekerk following its acquisition in Florence in 1506 by the Flemish wool merchant, Alexander Moscheron. The other paintings in the group discussed by Ainsworth, namely the Virgin and Child in the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Gemäldegalerie, and the Holy Family in the Museo de Bellas Artes, Bilbao, date to the second half of the decade, when Gossart increasingly embraced his Northern identity. Thus, while the influence of Michelangelo’s Bruges Madonna lingers in the faces of the Virgin and Child in the present painting (chronologically the penultimate of the group), the impact of Albrecht Dürer’s Virgin and Child with the Pear (fig. 5; 1512; Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna)—which was likely present in the Netherlands during Gossart’s lifetime—may also be detected in their features. Moreover, the eccentric stylishness of the setting in our painting, as in the Berlin and Bilbao pictures, is wholly characteristic of Gossart’s distinctive brand of Antwerp Mannerism, which grew ever more assertive toward the end of his career.

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