Flemish painting and De Jonckheere Gallery's old master paintings
Provenance: private collection
The profound influence of Hieronymus Bosch on the artistic output of the 16th century can clearly be seen in this painting by Pieter Huys. This ‘Descent into...read more
Provenance: private collection
The profound influence of Hieronymus Bosch on the artistic output of the 16th century can clearly be seen in this painting by Pieter Huys. This ‘Descent into Limbo’ immediately plunges us into an eccentric, fantastic and barbarous world, where the vitality of the mediaeval images and forms is still fresh and vigorous. Far from Italy, the Renaissance in Northern Europe wasn’t limited to the rediscovery of the canons of classical antiquity. This panel by Pieter Huys is indeed a perfect example.
In the ‘geography’ of the Catholic religion, limbo corresponds to two places in the beyond situated on the threshold to hell. The purpose of limbo is to receive the souls of the righteous who died before the resurrection of Christ. It corresponds to ‘Abraham’s bosom’, mentioned in the Gospel according to Saint Luke (16:22). These souls, who cannot enter Paradise since it has been sealed since Adam’s original sin, are freed by Jesus when he descends into hell between Good Friday and Easter. The scholastic tradition is based on Peter’s first epistle, which indicates that Jesus “went to preach to imprisoned spirits” (3:19).
The theme of Christ’s descent into limbo allowed Flemish Renaissance painters to develop their taste for scenes of hell. The huge success of Hieronymus Bosch’s work explains the multitude of paintings directly inspired by the imagination of the Brabant artist. Unlike other painters who willingly forged Bosch’ signature, Pieter Huys preferred to sign his own name. This fact seems to support the notoriety of Pieter Huys as a painter specialising in ‘devilish’ works, which were appreciated as such and not as simple copies of Hieronymus Bosch.
Far from being a simple follower of Bosch, Pieter Huys was and always will be appreciated for his liberal, rapid and expressive technique, and for his refined choice of colours. This work is a perfect example: it can be considered as one of the most profound expressions of his temperament.
There are few known written documents referring to Pieter Huys. The son and student of an obscure landscape artist and the brother of the engraver Franz Huys, he was born in Antwerp around 1519....read more
There are few known written documents referring to Pieter Huys. The son and student of an obscure landscape artist and the brother of the engraver Franz Huys, he was born in Antwerp around 1519. He was registered as a Master in the corporation of Antwerp in 1545. He then went to work for the engraver and publisher of prints Hieronymous Cock and, after 1560, worked for the house of Plantin providing book decorations. Some dozen signed works by Huys are known, ranging in date from 1547 to 1577. One third of these treat the subject of the Temptation of Saint Anthony.
Pieter Huys became the most personal and accomplished imitator of Hieronymous Bosch. He borrowed monsters from the latter’s iconographical repertoire and was inspired by the painterly qualities of Bosch’s compositions to create his own scenes of grotesques in the same spirit, as did Jan Mandyn. At the same time, he had a bold enough imagination to invent original forms as well and, as an accomplished craftsman, created works of great quality which lend themselves, in a highly personal manner, to the style of the Renaissance.
This predilection for scenes of grotesques enabled him to stage phantasmagorical visions of a strange and chaotic world, preyed upon by demonic forces, populated by hybrid, composite, or aberrant creatures. While he borrowed the horrific and fantastical hallucinations of Bosch, he tended to employ them with a more realist approach, in more believable settings. His delirious figures attain a representational objectivity in the details that distinguishes his work from that of the numerous Bosch imitators.
In this way, Pieter Huys played an important role in the satirical genre of the sixteenth century with his visions which were more comical than disturbing and he may be regarded as an excellent colourist, able to subtly combine the influence of both Bosch and Brueghel.