1902 Encyclopedia > Jan Gossart (Jan Mabuse)

Jan Gossart
(commonly known as: Jan Mabuse; Jan Gossaert)
Flemish painter
(c. 1478 - 1533/35)




JAN GOSSART, born at Maubeuge towards the close of the 15th century, is better known to Englishmen by the name of Mabuse than by that of Jenni Gossart, with which he signed some of his pictures, or that of Jennyn van Hennegouwe (Hainault), under which he matriculated in the guild of St Luke, at Antwerp, in 1503. We know nothing of his life before he attained to manhood; but his works at least tell us that he stood in his first period under the influence of artists to whom plastic models were familiar ; and this leads to the belief that he spent his youth on the French border rather than on the banks of the Scheldt. In no seat of artistic culture is this feature more conspicuous than at Tournai, Douai, or Valenciennes, and it may be that in one of these cities Mabuse learnt to com-mingle the study of architecture with the gaudy system of colouring familiar to tinters of stone. Without the subtlety or power of Van der Weyden, he had this much in common ; with the great master of Tournai and Brussels, that his I compositions were usually framed in architectural back-! grounds; and this marked characteristic is strongly dis-| played in the pictures which he executed in the first years i of the 16th century. But whilst Mabuse thus early betrays ! his dependence on the masters of the French frontier, he [ also confesses admiration for the great painters who first I gave lustre to Antwerp; and in the large altar-pieces of i Castle Howard and Scawby, he combines in a quaint and not unskilful medley the sentiment of Memling, the bright and decided contrasts of pigment peculiar to coloured reliefs, the cornered and packed drapery familiar to Van der Weyden, and the bold but Socratic cast of face remarkable in the works of Quentin Matsys. At Scawby he illustrates the legend of the count of Toulouse, who parted with his worldly goods to assume the frock of a hermit. At Castle Howard he represents the Adoration of the Kings, and throws together some thirty figures on an architectural background, varied in detail, massive in shape, and fanciful in ornament. He surprises us by pompous costume and flaring contrasts of tone. His figures, like pieces on a chess-board, are often rigid and conventional. The land-scape which shows through the colonnades is adorned with towers and steeples in the minute fashion of Van der Weyden. After a residence of a few years at Antwerp, Mabuse took service with Philip, bastard of Philip the Good, at that time Lord of Somerdyk and admiral of Zeeland. One of his pictures had already become celebrated—a Descent from the Cross (50 figures) on the high altar of the monastery of St Michael of Tongerloo. Philip of Burgundy ordered Mabuse to execute a replica for the church of Middleburg; and the value which was then set on the picture is apparent from the fact that Dürer came expressly to Middleburg (1521) to see it. In 1568 the altar-piece perished by fire. But its principal features were preserved in a large arras hanging, recently exhibited at the Archaeo-logical Museum of Brussels. In 1508 Margaret of Austria sent Philip of Burgundy to Italy to negotiate for the treaty of Cambrai. On this mission he was accompanied by Mabuse ; and by this accident an important revolution was effected in the art of the Netherlands. Mabuse appears to have chiefly studied in Italy the cold and polished works of the Leonardesques. He not only brought home a new style, but he also introduced the fashion of travelling to Italy; and from that time, till the age of Eubens and Van Dyck it was considered proper that all Flemish painters should visit the peninsula. The Flemings grafted Italian mannerisms on their own stock; and the cross turned out so unfor-tunately that for a century Flemish art lost all trace of originality.

In the summer of 1509 Philip returned to the Nether-lands, and, retiring to his seat of Suytburg in Zeeland, surrendered himself to the pleasures of planning decorations for his castle and ordering pictures of Mabuse and Jacob of Barbari. Being in constant communication with the court of Margaret of Austria at Malines, he gave the artists in his employ fair chances of promotion. Barbari was made court painter to the regent, whilst Mabuse received less im-portant commissions. Records prove that Mabuse painted a portrait of Leonora of Portugal, and other small pieces, for Charles V. in 1516. But the only signed pictures of this period are the Neptune and Amphitrite of 1516 at Berlin, and the Madonna, with a portrait of Jean Caron-delet, of 1517, at the Louvre, in both of which we clearly discern that Vasari only spoke by hearsay of the progress made by Mabuse in "the true method of producing pictures full of nude figures and poesies." It is difficult to find any-thing more coarse or misshapen than the Amphitrite, unless we except the grotesque and ungainly drayman who figures for Neptune. In later forms of the same subject—the Adam and Eve at Hampton Court, or its feebler replica at Berlin—we observe more nudity, combined with realism of the commonest type. Happily Mabuse was capable of higher efforts. His St Luke painting the portrait of the Virgin in Sanct Veit at Prague, a variety of the same sub-ject in the Belvedere at Vienna, the Madonna of the Baring collection in London, or the numerous repetitions of Christ and the Scoffers (Ghent and Antwerp), all prove that travel had left many of Gossart's fundamental peculiarities unaltered. His figures still retain the character of stone; his architecture is as rich and varied, his tones are as strong as ever. But bright contrasts of gaudy tints are replaced by soberer greys; and a cold haze, the "sfumato" of the Milanese, pervades the surfaces. It is but seldom that these features fail to obtrude. When they least show, the master displays a brilliant palette combined with smooth surface and incisive outlines. In this form the Madonnas of Munich and Vienna (1527), the likeness of a girl weighing gold pieces (Berlin), and the portraits of the children of the king of Denmark at Hampton Court, are fair specimens of his skill.

Philip of Burgundy had been deputed in Italy (1515) to escort Charles V.'s sister, Isabella, to Denmark. She was the affianced bride of Christian II., whose subsequent attempt to unite Denmark and Sweden ended so fatally. Here a favourable opportunity was afforded for introducing Mabuse to the Danish court; and it is possible that the opportunity was not neglected. Yet Mabuse may have become acquainted with the Danish king at a later period. As early as 1523, when Christian came to Belgium, he asked Mabuse to paint the likenesses of his dwarfs. In 1528 he requested the artist to furnish to Jean de Hare the design for Isabella's tomb in the abbey of St Pierre near Ghent. It was no doubt at this time that Mabuse com-pleted the portraits of John, Dorothy, and Christine, children of Christian II., which came into the collection of Henry VIII. No doubt, also, these portraits are identical with those of three children at Hampton Court, which were long known and often copied as likenesses of Prince Arthur, Prince Henry, and Princess Margaret of England. One of the copies at Wilton, inscribed with the forged name of "Hans Holbein, ye father," and the false date of 1495, has often been cited as a proof that Mabuse came to England in the reign of Henry VII.; but the statement, it is clear, rests on no foundation whatever. At the period when these portraits were executed Mabuse lived at Middleburg. But he dwelt at intervals elsewhere. When Philip of Burgundy became bishop of Utrecht, and settled at Duerstede, near Wyck, in 1517, he was accompanied by Mabuse, who helped to decorate the new palace of his master. At Philip's death, in 1524, Mabuse designed and erected his tomb in the church of Wyck. He finally retired to Middleburg, where he took service with Philip's brother, Adolph, lord of Veeren. Van Mander's biography accuses Gossart of habitual drunkenness; yet it describes the splendid appearance of the artist as, dressed in gold brocade, he accompanied Lucas of Leyden on a pleasure trip to Ghent, Malines, and Antwerp in 1527. The works of Mabuse are those of a hardworking and patient artist; the number of his still extant pictures practically demonstrates that he was not a debauchee. The marriage of his daughter with the painter Henry Van der Heyden of Louvain proves that he had a home, and did not live habitually in taverns, as Van Mander suggests. His death at Antwerp, on the 1st of October 1532, is recorded in the portrait engraved by Jerome Cock. (J. A. C.)








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