Joachim Patinir – the early landscape artist.

Joachim Patinir  c.1480 -1524
Joachim Patinir
c.1480 -1524

When I visit local art galleries around my neighbourhood they are packed with landscape works from various local artists.  As it is Wales a few sheep and the odd shepherd are “thrown in” as a prerequisite for Welsh landscape paintings.  My featured artist today was one of the earliest landscape painters and although his paintings often incorporated religious themes which were commonplace in northern Renaissance art, his forte was his splendid detailed, visually fascinating landscapes.   He is considered one of the first modern landscape specialists. Let me introduce you to the great sixteenth century Flemish landscape painter Joachim Patinir (often referred to as Patenier) of whose style the English art historian Kenneth Clarke described as:

“…the first painter to make landscapes more important than his figures…”

So how well thought of as an artist was this sixteenth century painter? Felipe de Guevara was a sixteenth century Spanish humanist, art writer, patron of the arts and a connoisseur of Netherlandish painting and in his manuscript of 1560, which two hundred years later, was published in book form, Comentarios de la pintura, he wrote that he regarded Patinir as on being par with the great Netherlandish painters Jan van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden.  Praise indeed!  So who was this man who achieved such great standing?

In all biographies the opening paragraph usually contains a date of birth and it is at this point, with this artist, that one hits a brick wall as his actual date of birth is unknown and his birth date, which often varies from book to book, is somewhat of an educated guess.

According to the 1521 diary of Albrecht Dürer, who described Patinir as the good painter of landscapes there was, at that time, a portrait of Patinir as a man in his forties and that would then put Joachim Patinir’s birth date somewhere around 1480.  If Patinir’s birth date is uncertain so is his birthplace albeit the consensus of opinion is that he was born in either the town of Dinant or the nearby village of Bouvignes on the River Meuse.  It is interesting to note that Dinant is situated at a point on the River Meuse where the river cuts deeply into the western Condroz plateau.  The town lies in a steep sided valley sandwiched between the rock face and the river and the spectacular landscape around this town came to influence Patinir in his landscape works.

The first concrete facts we have of him was that he was serving an apprenticeship in the Antwerp Guild of Painters in 1515, a city in which he was to live all his life.  During his time he met and worked with other great Netherlandish artists of the time such as Gérard David, Hieronymus Bosch, Quentin Matsys

The Temptation of St Anthony by Joachim Patinir  (c. 1520-24)
The Temptation of St Anthony by Joachim Patinir (c. 1520-24)

My first offering of Patinir’s work is one entitled Landscape with the Temptation of Saint Anthony Abbot which he completed somewhere between 1520 and 1524 was one of the few paintings which was signed by the artist. The painting now resides at the Museo Nacional del Prado. This work of art was not a solo effort by him, but a collaboration with Quentin Matsys, who painted the figures, which we see in the foreground.  St Anthony, who had given up his worldly possessions and devoted himself to a contemplative life, is depicted sitting on the ground.  He is surrounded by temptation in the form of three courtesans who try to seduce him.  One of the women holds out an apple which symbolises temptation reminding us of the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.  A demon-like monkey pulls at his clothes.   Lying on the ground we see a discarded rosary symbolising the possible abandonment of faith.  Although our eyes are initially drawn to the large figures in the foreground and as we try to work out what is going on, they soon move to take in the wondrous landscape in the middle ground and background which is a setting for various events in the life of the saint. Cast your eyes to the central middle ground and one can make out Anthony and his hut which is under attack by an army of demons.  To the right of that scene we see St. Anthony sitting at the water’s edge of a lake on which is the royal barge carrying the queen and her ladies-in-waiting, some of whom are naked; all part of a seduction scene.  The rocky landscape and the river hark back to the geography of his birthplace.  The painting was acquired by the Spanish king, Philip II in 1566 and was hung in the Escorial Palace.

Landscape with St Jerome by Joachim Patinir (c. 1517)
Landscape with St Jerome by Joachim Patinir (c. 1517)

Patinir often incorporated hermit-style life depiction in his landscape works.  This was a very popular subject in Northern European devotional works of art. This next painting focuses on these two elements.  It is his Landscape with St Jerome painting, which he completed around 1517, and which also can be found in the Prado in Madrid.  The work combines an extensive landscape background, with its vibrantly coloured and decidedly naturalistic vista, with the tale of Saint Jerome.  In this work we see the moment in time when Saint Jerome, seen huddled under a rocky outcrop, removes the thorn from the paw of the lion.  Patinir’s depiction of the saint is not as we would expect to observe him.   Jerome, who was a cardinal in the Catholic Church and eminent theological scholar, was often depicted alone, dressed in his red ceremonial robes, studiously at work in his room.  However, in this work Jerome is dressed in the rags of a hermit living outside his battered wooden shelter.  As was the case in the first painting I featured, our eyes soon leave Jerome and the lion and focus on the way Patinir has beautifully depicted, in great detail, the landscape which surrounds the saint. Perched on rocky plateau is a monastery, supposedly a depiction of the one at Bethlehem where Jerome once worked.   The painting seems to have three well defined colour patterns.  The foreground is the darkest made up of various tones of brown and black depicting Jerome’s shelter attached to the high and dark rocky outcrop.  The middle ground is full of green of differing shades from the dark greens of the tree foliage to the lighter greens of the fields further away which surround a small village.  The background is predominantly lighter with blues and greys depicting the sea and the far-off mountains although to the left we see the black clouds of an approaching storm.  This change in colours from the darkness of the foreground to the lightness of the background creates perspective in the work.  Once again the high craggy outcrops hark back to the geography of his birthplace, Dinant which nestled snugly between the high rocky cliffs which protruded out towards the River Meuse.

Charon crossing the River Styx by Joachim Patinir (1524)
Charon crossing the River Styx by Joachim Patinir (1524)

My third offering is fundamentally a landscape work and yet this has a mythological connotation.  It is entitled Charon Crossing the River Styx and was completed by Patinir around 1524.  Again, like the two previous works, it can be found in Madrid’s Prado museum.  This is not a devotional work and was probably originally commissioned by a wealthy merchant and scholarly connoisseur who was also an avid art collector.  The painting is divided into three vertical parts, the centre of which is the River Styx and the outer parts represent the banks on either side of this great mythological waterway.   The River Styx was one of the five rivers that separated the world of the living from the world of the dead. In Greek mythology, it was written that the River Styx wound around Hades nine times. The name of the river derives from the Greek word stugein which means hate, and so, Styx, was the river of hate. To the left of the river is the swamp-like and rugged bank of Paradise and to the right of the river is that of Hell

Charon and the Soul
Charon and the Soul

Our eyes immediately home in on the sandy-coloured boat and its occupants which are midway between the two banks.  The boatman is Charon, the old ferry man who ferries the dead onto the underworld, and we see him crossing the river Styx towards the underworld, where the dragon-tailed three-headed dog, Cerebus, stands guard, allowing all souls to enter but none to leave. We can see Cerebus curled up in his lair at the entrance to the gates of Hell, which is depicted in the right background of the painting, burning brightly.

The Angel pointing the way
The Angel pointing the way

Along with Charon in the boat is the soul of a recently deceased person. The soul is looking around and has to decide on to which bank it wants to disembark.  If you look carefully at the left bank you will notice an angel perched on a mound pointing towards another waterway and another land.  This water is the Fountain of Life and it is part of Paradise.  We can see peacocks and ravens on this land and these symbolise Resurrection and Redemption.  The angel is canvassing that this should be the soul’s land of choice.  Now, if we look on the right bank that also seems to be calm and peaceful with birds flying around the trees.  Cerebus is out of sight but on the ground near the foot of the trees is a small monkey which is a symbol of the devil and that for the soul in the boat should be warning enough.  Unfortunately, looking at the way Charon is steering the boat, the soul has made the wrong choice!  The background story is interesting but for me the beauty of this work is not the characters in it but the artist’s depiction of the landscape.

Landscape with Saint John the Baptist Preaching by Joachim Patinir
Landscape with Saint John the Baptist Preaching by Joachim Patinir

My fourth and final offering of works by Joachim Patinir is entitled Landscape with Saint John the Baptist Preaching and one version of this work can be found in the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique – Brussels, but the one below is from the collection of  the Philadelphia Museum of Art and in the lower right hand corner of this version we see a crest.   It is the crest of the wealthy Rem family and it could well be the wealthy merchant, Lucas Rem, the sixteenth century Augsburg merchant and art collector had this version painted for himself and had the family crest added to it.

Landscape with Saint John the Baptist Preaching by Joachim Patinir with the Rem Crest
Landscape with Saint John the Baptist Preaching by Joachim Patinir with the Rem Crest

In the painting, we have a bird’s eye view of St John the Baptist preaching to a group of followers but what I like most about the painting is the beautifully depicted imaginary landscape which acts as a backdrop to the religious scene,   Once again it crosses my mind that the religious story plays a secondary role to Patinir’s depiction of the landscape.  Once again we see a similar landscape to that in his other works – tall rocky outcrops closely bordering on to a river, which because of the religious nuance of the painting could have represented the River Jordan and on the left bank, although not clear in this picture, is a depiction of the baptism of Christ, in the Jordan river, by John the Baptist.

We observe St John, bent over, leaning heavily against a sturdy branch of a tree.  It is almost as if he is leaning against a lectern or pulpit rail as he looks down upon his followers who sit entranced by his words.  In the foreground to the left of the painting we see a tree which is dying around which is a vine.   This is thought to allude to the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden which withered and died once Adam had taken a bite of the apple offered to him by Eve.  According to legend, the tree eventually came back to life once Jesus Christ had died on the cross and in so doing, had atoned for the sins of the world.

Both John the Baptist and his audience are in the shade as the bright light we see lighting up the meandering river, which wends its way towards the horizon, is incapable of penetrating the thick tree canopy above the group.  As was the case in the earlier painting, Patinir has used different colour combinations to craft perspective.  Dark browns and greens in the foreground around the people gradually change to lighter greens of the banks of the river and then in the distance lighter blues and greys become the dominant colours.

Bayard Rock, Dinant
Bayard Rock, Dinant

There is a fascinating delicacy about Patinir’s landscape work and as I have said before this favoured landscape depiction of the artist probably stemmed from what he remembers of his birthplace around Dinant and the rock structure there known as the Bayard Rock, which looms above the town and the River Meuse.

In German, Patinir would be classified as a painter of Weltlandschaft which translated means world landscape.  The Weltlandschaft painters completed works depicting panoramic landscapes as seen from a high viewpoint.  These works of art typically included mountains and lowlands, water, and buildings. As in Patinir’s works, the subject of each painting is usually a Biblical or historical narrative, but the figures included in the work are secondary to their surroundings and they were often made-to-order by secular patrons.  The landscapes in these works were not geographically accurate.  In her 2005 book, Seventeenth-century Art and Architecture, Anne Sutherland Harris, a professor of Art History, describes this form of art:

“…They were imaginary compilations of the most appealing and spectacular aspects of European geography, assembled for the delight of the wealthy armchair traveller…”

So again I ask – was Patinir a religious painter who liked to add a landscape background to his work or was he a landscape painter who liked to add, or get somebody else to add, figures appertaining to religious and mythological stories?  Perhaps his friend Albrecht Dürer had the answer to this conundrum when he described his friend as:

“…der gute Landschaftmaler…

(the good painter of landscapes)

Desiderius Erasmus and Pieter Gillis by Quinten Massys

Desiderius Erasmus by Quinten Massys (1517)
Desiderius Erasmus by Quinten Massys (1517)

We are in the run-up to Christmas and many of us will be struggling to come up with ideas for the perfect gift for a beloved friend.  The problem is even further exacerbated if the friend is wealthy and wants for very little.  What do you give somebody who has everything?  What gift can you give someone which will forever remind him or her of your close and enduring friendship?  My featured painting today is all about this.  It is about three friends, two of whom want to give the third a gift; a memento of their friendship and so they decided to present their friend with two portraits of themselves, known as a friendship diptych.  To make their gift even more special they decided to commission the foremost painter of the time to carry out the work.  The two gift givers were the humanists, Desiderius Erasmus and Pieter Gillis and the recipient of their gift was Thomas More.  The artist they commissioned to paint the friendship diptych was the Flemish painter Quinten Massys.

The beneficiary of the two paintings was Thomas More, an Oxford University graduate.  During his time at university he wrote comedies and studied both Greek and Latin literature.  In 1494, after he had obtained his university degree, he returned to London and was admitted to Lincoln’s Inn and in 1501 became a barrister.    He was a very religious man and at one time had decided to give up his career in law and become a monk and for a time lived at a Carthusian monastery.  His mental torment between following a secular or religious life was finally decided three years later when he chose to serve his country as a parliamentarian and entered Parliament in 1504.

Pieter Gillis by Quinten Massys (1517)
Pieter Gillis by Quinten Massys (1517)

In 1499, whilst Thomas More was living in London he met the Dutch Renaissance humanist and scholar, Desiderius Erasmus.  This initial meeting of the two men turned into a lifelong friendship and they continued to correspond on a regular basis during which time they worked collaboratively to translate into Latin and have printed some of the works of the Assyrian satirist, Lucian of Samosata.  It was through his meeting with Erasmus that Thomas More met Erasmus’ friend, Pieter Gillis, a fellow humanist, a printer by trade and town clerk of Antwerp.  One of Thomas More’s most famous compositions was his two-volume work entitled Utopia.  It is a depiction of a fictional island and its religious, political and social customs and was More’s way of commenting upon the social and political ideas of the day as well as highlighting and satirising the failings he saw all around him.  In the first volume, entitled Dialogue of Counsel, it began with correspondence between More himself and others, including Pieter Gillis.  The whole idea of the book came to Thomas More whilst he was staying at the Antwerp home of Gillis in 1515.  On his return to England in 1516, Thomas More completed the work and the first edition was edited by Erasmus and published in Leuven.  Thomas More dedicated this work to Pieter Gillis.

In 1517, a year after the publication of the first edition of More’s work, Desiderius Erasmus and Pieter Gillis, decided to send portraits of themselves to Sir Thomas More. This friendship diptych would act as a virtual visit to their English friend in London and they approached Quinten Massys to carry out the two paintings as he was the leading Antwerp painter at that time. Erasmus’ portrait was the first to be completed because the portrait of Gillis was constantly being delayed due to him falling ill during the sittings.  The two men had told Thomas More about the paintings which may not have been a wise move as More constantly queried them as to the progress of the paintings and became very impatient to receive the gift.  The two works were finally completed and were sent to More whilst he was in Calais.

The portrait of Erasmus, which is part of the Royal Collection and is currently on show at the Dürer to Holbein; The Northern Renaissance Exhibition at the Queen’s Gallery in London, depicts Erasmus working in his study. The way in which Massys has portrayed Erasmus was a popular way of depicting St Jerome, and so the setting used in the portrait probably alludes to the fact that Erasmus had just published a new edition of the writings of St Jerome.

It is interesting to look at the books on the shelves in the background.  On the upper shelf of the Erasmus painting there is a book which has the inscription Novum Testament which alludes to Novum Testamentum Graece, the first published edition of the Greek New Testament produced by Erasmus in 1516.  On the lower shelf there are three books.  The bottom tome has the inscription Hieronymus which refers to Erasmus’s editions of the New Testament and St Jerome; on top of that book there is one with the inscription Λουκιανός which is the Ancient Greek word for Lovkianos or Lucian and refers to Erasmus and Thomas More’s collaboration in translating Lucian’s Dialogues.   The inscription on the uppermost book is the word Hor, which originally read Mor.  The first letter was probably altered during an early restoration, for besides Mor being the first letters of Thomas More’s surname they almost certainly refer to the satirical essays written by Erasmus whilst staying with Thomas More in his London home in 1509 and entitled Enconium Moriae (Praise of Folly).  This collection of essays was considered one of the most notable works of the Renaissance.  We see Erasmus writing in a book.  This depiction has been carefully thought out for the words one sees on the page paper are a paraphrase of St Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, the handwriting is a careful replication of Erasmus’s own hand, and the reed pen he holds was known to be Erasmus’s favourite writing tool.  If you look closely, in the folds of Erasmus’ cloak you can just make out a purse.  It could be that Erasmus wanted the artist to include this in order to illustrate his generosity.  Erasmus and Gillis made a point of informing Thomas More that they had split the cost of the painting because they wanted it to be a present from them both.  If you look at the two paintings side by side then one can see that Massys has cleverly continued the bookcase behind the two sitters and this gives the impression that the two men depicted in the two separate panels occupy the same room and are facing each other.

The Friendship Diptych
Copy of The Friendship Diptych
Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica, Rome

If we were to look now at the two paintings of Erasmus and Gillis, side by side, we would question whether they were in fact two halves of a diptych as they have different dimensions.  This has been explained away by the fact that the Royal Collection painting of Erasmus has been cut and the one of Gillis, which is in the private collection of the Earl of Radnor at Longford Castle, has been extended but it is believed that the original dimensions of both had matched perfectly. Furthermore, both panels have the brand of Charles I on the reverse and the fact that they were together in the seventeenth century seems to confirm that they constitute the original friendship diptych.

The artist, Quinten Massys also spelled Matsys or Metsys, was the foremost artist of his day in Antwerp.  He was born around 1466, in the town of Louvain which is situated in the Flemish Province of Brabant in Belgium.   His father Joost Massys was a blacksmith and his mother was Catharina van Kincken and they had four children.  For a time Quentin helped his father in his blacksmith and metalwork business.  Little is known about Massys’ early life and what we do know could be based on fanciful legends!  One such story was that Quentin abandoned working as a blacksmith and became an artist in order to impress a young lady, an artist’s daughter, who found art and artists romantic.  However a more mundane reason for Quinten to give up as a blacksmith was given by the painter, art historian and biographer of Netherlandish artists, Karel van Mander, in his 1604 Schilder-Boeck, who wrote that Quinten was a sickly youth and lacked the physical strength needed by somebody working in the metalwork and blacksmith profession.

Quinten Massys moved to Antwerp where he was admitted to the Antwerp St Lukas Guild.  He married when he was twenty-six years of age.  His wife was Alyt van Tuylt and the couple went on to have three children, two sons, Quinten and Pawel and a daughter Katelijne.  His wife died in 1507 and Quentin remarried a year later.  His new wife was Catherina Heyns and she and Quinten went on to have a further ten children, five sons and five daughters.  Shortly after their father’s death, two of his sons, Jan and Cornelis went on to become artists and members of the Antwerp Guild.

Thomas More was knighted in 1521 and in 1523, he became the speaker of the House of Commons and in 1525 chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. Seventeen years after Thomas More received his friendship diptych from Erasmus and Gillis, he was dead.  He had risen to power under Henry VIII but had fallen foul of the English ruler in 1534 by refusing to swear to the king’s Act of Succession and the Oath of Supremacy, statutes which made Henry the supreme head of the Church of England.  Sir Thomas More believed that the supreme head of the church was the Pope and this stated belief lead to him being indicted for treason on charges of praemunire, which was the offense of introducing foreign authority into England and was intended to reduce the civil power of the Pope in England.  The jury found him guilty and he was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered, which was the usual punishment for traitors who were not the nobility.  However Henry VIII commuted this to execution by decapitation. Sir Thomas More was executed on 6 July 1535.   His last words were a declaration that he died “the king’s good servant, but God’s first”

King Edward VI by William Scrots

King Edward VI by William Scrots (c.1550)

Let me start  by tantalising you and declaring that today My Daly Art Display is about three people, a young English king who came to the throne aged nine and died six years later, a Netherlandish portrait painter who became the King’s painter and finally a former chairman of an English Premier League football club.   Has that wetted your appetite to read on?

The king in question, who we see in the painting, was King Edward VI, the son of Henry VIII and his third wife, Jane Seymour.  Edward was born in October 1537 just over nine years before his father died and the crown passed to him.  Although he was the first son of Henry he was the third child of the monarch.  Henry VIII’s first child was Mary, born in 1516, whose mother was his first wife, Catherine of Aragon.  His second child was his daughter Elizabeth, born in 1533, his mother being Henry’s second wife Anne Boleyn.  However Henry didn’t want a girl to succeed him so he got Parliament to pass three Succession Acts, the First Succession to the Crown Act of 1534 disbarred Mary becoming Queen of England on the grounds that she was a bastard leaving the yet unborn Elizabeth the true successor.  However in 1536 with the execution of Anne Boleyn, the mother of Elizabeth, Elizabeth was declared also to be a bastard and Henry’s parliament passed the Second Succession to the Crown Act of 1536 which barred her from succeeding him to the throne of England.  At this time Henry had no heir although he had just married his third wife Jane Seymour and Edward had yet to be conceived.  In 1543 it all changed again when Henry had his Parliament pass a Third Act of Succession which made his son Edward the legitimate successor to his throne with Mary and Elizabeth reinstated as second and third in line.  Henry VIII died four years later and the nine year old Edward became King Edward VI.  His reign lasted just six years as at the age of fifteen he contracted tuberculosis and died.

The second person involved in this painting was the painter himself, William Scrots.  Little is known of his early life but he came to light as the court painter to Mary of Habsburg, the Regent of Netherlands in 1537.  We also know that Scrots travelled to England around 1545 where the following year he became the court painter of Henry VIII in succession to Hans Holbein.  It is believed that his annual salary for this position was £62. 10 shillings, double what Holbein had been receiving.  After Henry’s death in 1547 he remained as court painter to the young Edward.  Scrots painted a number of portraits of Edward VI, one of which is today’s featured painting.

Anamorphic portrait of Edward VI by William Scrots

It is interesting to note that Scrots painted an anamorphic profile of Edward VI, which is a painting which looks totally distorted unless viewed from a certain angle when what is depicted becomes clear.   His predecessor Holbein had painted The Ambassadorsin 1533, in which he included a distorted shape of a skull lying diagonally across the bottom of the painting and which can only be recognised as such if viewing it from a very acute angle.

Anamorphic portrait as seen from an acute angle

My Daily Art Display featured oil on panel painting is simply entitled King Edward VI and Scrots is thought to have painted it around 1540.  It is an unusual portrayal of the monarch as it is one in which the sitter is seen in profile.  It is awash with detailed iconography.  We see in the painting both a red and white rose which symbolised the Houses of Lancaster and York respectively, the two great English dynasties, which were united by Edward’s grandfather, Henry VII.   The Latin inscription below the portrait speaks of Phoebus, the sun, and Clytia, the sunflower, both of whom feature in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Ovid relates how Apollo turned the Princess Clytia into a sunflower as punishment for exposing his romance with her sister Leucothea.  Look at the sunflowers in the painting.  Normally they would turn and face the sun but in this portrait they have their “backs” to the sun and face the boy-king, which was probably meant to symbolise the power and influence of the young man.  It is believed the portrait was commissioned by the Stanhope family who were related to Edward’s uncle and chief minister, Edward Seymour who was for a time also the Lord Protector.  The painting remained in the Stanhope family until 2004.

And so to the third person connected to this painting, the former Premier League football chairman.  As I have just said the painting remained in the Stanhope family for over four hundred and fifty years until 2004 when it was auctioned by Sothebys.  This painting was considered to be one of the most significant sixteenth-century paintings ever to have come up for sale.  It was purchased for £700,000  by the Peter Moores Foundation for Compton Verney.  Sir Peter Moores is a British businessman, art collector and philanthropist, a former chairman of the Liverpool-based Littlewoods football poolsand retailing business in the UK and was briefly the Chairman of Everton Football Club.

So there you have it – a fascinating oil on panel painting, a tale of three men;  a boy-king, an artist and an ex football chairman.   What more could you ask for?