Flemish painting and De Jonckheere Gallery's old master paintings
Clarence Palitz collection;
Like Joos van Cleve, Pieter Coecke van Aelst ran a flourishing studio and his style is perfectly identifiable today. The body of...read more
Clarence Palitz collection;
Like Joos van Cleve, Pieter Coecke van Aelst ran a flourishing studio and his style is perfectly identifiable today. The body of his work is well documented thanks to Georges Marlier’s monograph: among the most appreciated paintings from this studio, the theme of the Adoration of the Magi, the first example of which undoubtedly dates from 1525, serves as a reference.
In each of the listed versions, the Virgin is represented as a Virgo Ecclesia, symbolically receiving the homage of the nations from three different kings bearing such gifts as gold, frankincense and myrrh. These three gifts represent the three powers: royal power represented by gold, spiritual by myrrh and sacerdotal by frankincense. The magi not only symbolise the three continents known at the time, and therefore the world, but also the three stages of life. The oriental king is the oldest and the African king the youngest. Coecke deals with the subject of the Epiphany through subtle variants in some ten paintings, among which the Adoration of the Magi with the Virgin sitting in the centre; the Adoration of the Magi in a triangular composition; the Adoration of the Magi with Gaspar kneeling and facing front; the Magi and the Holy Family facing each other. Marlier listed around a dozen versions similar in composition to our Triptych; none of them are dated or documented by a purchase order.
The magus Balthazar is shown on the left-hand panel while Saint Joseph is featured on the right. The central panel presents the Holy Virgin carrying the Infant Jesus who blesses the kneeling Gaspar. As for Melchior, he is standing. He is facing us and is placed at the top of the triangle composed of the three major figures. The characters are shown in close-up. We can see two secondary figures on the central panel but this has no influence on our portrayal, which seems to truly emphasise the iconography particular to the Adoration of the Magi.
Just like the works in the Archiepiscopal Museum in Utrecht, the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium and the museum in Valenciennes, our figures are pictured in front of a landscape with a mix of nature and idealised architecture. Their clothes are made of fine, rich materials; fur, velvet and precious materials embellish the scene. The drapes of Saint Joseph and the Virgin are voluptuous and their folds are rounded, thus echoing the regular oval face of the Virgin. The kneeling Gaspar holds a box out to the Child, while Melchior holds a chiselled chalice, removing his hat with his right hand as a sign of respect and adoration. As for Balthazar, portrayed on the left-hand panel, he is carrying a gold chalice and sceptre and is respectfully and modestly observing the scene before him. The overall colouring is a skilful mixture of warms tones, especially for the clothes, and cold tones for the landscape as well as the Renaissance-style architectural elements. The architectonic elements, pillars, columns and capitals, bear witness to a very obvious classicism. Their chiselled adornments, as well as their sculpted motifs, are rendered by impasto applied with the remarkable ease of a highly graphic arabesque style. In the central panel, the perspective viewpoint has been slightly moved to the left with a landscape and a circular tower in the background, which are also present in the Adoration in Adoration of the e Adoratin t in the Adoratin und landscapeaure and idealised architecture.lgium and the museum in Valencienthe Alte Pinakothek in Munich.
While Coecke is in some way dependent on the works of other Antwerp painters, especially through his many family relations, his motifs are far from simple copies; he did indeed establish a style of his own. It would seem that he borrowed the design and layout, with half-length figures arranged in a triangle in the central panel, from the triptych in Utrecht traditionally attributed to the Master of the Adoration of the Magi of Utrecht (by P. Leprieur in Chronique des Arts et de la Curiosité, 28 December 1889, pp.315 to 317) but considered by Marlier as emanating from the studio of Jan van Dornicke, alias the Master of 1518, maybe with the participation of his son-in-law, Pieter Coecke. Another source of inspiration could be a triptych of the Adoration of the Magi by Jan Mostaert, in the Rijksmuseum. Indeed, in his central panel, the Virgin is sitting in the central axis but the Child’s pose and Gaspar’s attitude, who is offering him a chiselled chalice while lifting off its cover, are very similar.
While Coecke van Aelst closely follows his father-in-law’s composition, we should not be fooled by this submission. In the versions from van Dornicke’s studio, the technique used is still that of the Primitives. Here, every figure is far more robust, the hands are more fleshy and the fingers more vibrant. The brushstroke is free, rapid and almost feverish, and the forms rendered with the help of spirited touches are all characteristics that wonderfully define Coecke’s style. The painting of triptychs clearly held a place of choice among the works produced by Pieter Coecke van Aelst's prosperous studio: wings and panels intended for large altarpieces, either commissioned or painted for the free market; small mass-produced triptychs and devotional panels with almost infinite variations. New research has given us a clearer idea of the working methods in force in his studio. For instance, cartoons were used for the figures on the wings of altarpieces. The traced outlines were then painted, a practice that Coecke undoubtedly learnt from his master, Bernard van Orley.
1502 Aalst - Brussels 1550
A multi-talented 16th century Flemish artist working as a painter, architect, designer of cartoons for tapestries and stained-glass windows, editor and engraver,...read more
1502 Aalst - Brussels 1550
A multi-talented 16th century Flemish artist working as a painter, architect, designer of cartoons for tapestries and stained-glass windows, editor and engraver, Pieter Coecke van Aelst was the father-in-law and master of Pieter Brueghel the Elder. According to Karel van Mander, he was the pupil of Bernard van Orley in Brussels before travelling to Italy.
In 1525, he settled in Antwerp where he married Anna van Dornicke, the daughter of the Antwerp painter Jan van Dornicke, known as the Master of 1518. Coecke was his pupil and took over Dornicke’s studio after his death in 1527. The same year, Pieter Coecke van Aelst was accepted as a master in the Guild of Antwerp and lost his young wife, who left him two children, both painters. In 1533, he travelled to Constantinople which provided inspiration for his remarkable collection of engravings. These were published posthumously by his second wife as The Manners and Customs of the Turks.
After his return to Antwerp, he married Mayken Verhulst, also a painter, who bore him three children, including Marie, the future wife of his disciple Pieter Brueghel the Elder. At the same time, he went back to managing his studio and focusing on designing cartoons for famous tapestries in Brussels (including a series of Seven Sins, kept at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna), and stained-glass windows for the Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp, among others.
A complete humanist and an outstanding linguist, Pieter Coecke owes his reputation to his knowledge of Italian Renaissance architecture and his translation into Flemish, German and French of the theoretical work of Vitruvius and Sebastiano Serlio. These works, which were studied in particular by Hans Vredeman de Vries, helped to spread the knowledge of classical architecture throughout the whole of northern Europe.
Except for rare portraits and a few profane works, Coecke repeatedly focused on religious themes during his activity as a painter, such as the Adoration of the Magi, the Holy Family, scenes from the life and passion of Christ, individual portraits of the Virgin and the saints as well as episodes from the Old Testament.
He didn’t sign any of his paintings. Just like the great Italians of the Renaissance, Pieter Coecke liked to think of himself as an “artist” rather than a craftsman. He was also proud of his title as painter of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, and as "official publisher of his Imperial Majesty". A key figure in Antwerp mannerism and a polymorphous artist in various domains – with equal success – Pieter Coecke occupies a very special place in the history of 16th century painting.