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Herri Met de Bles

Panoramic landscape with Flight to Egypt

Panel: 44 x 74.3 cm
Signed with an owl, the artist’s symbol (in a crevice in the rock, in the centre)

introduction

The highly prolific landscape painter, Herri Met de Bles, left behind a great number of remarkable paintings. It was his custom to take elements from his previous paintings and reuse them in new compositions. Therefore, he had a catalogue of what could be termed “all-purpose” forms, which he could use and reuse in an infinite number of combinations. This Panoramic landscape with Flight into Egypt is no exception to the rule. The central motif of the rocky outcrop, under which the main scene takes place, as well as the overall composition do indeed resemble those in his Landscape with St. Jerome [1]. In both paintings, a natural arch pierces the rocky formation allowing us to see the trees behind. Furthermore, both feature constructions in the upper part of the painting. We also find the mountain topped by a fortified town on the left, and a stretch of water bordered by a port town on the right.

However, the landscape isn't the only subject of the painting, even if that initially appears to be the case. In fact, a scene featuring the Flight into Egypt has been placed in the centre of the work, in the foreground. We can catch a glimpse of Mary holding the Christ Child in her arms, riding on a donkey led by Joseph. But owing to their small size, they seem to want to let their surroundings take over, subordinate to the whole and its scale. In general, the artist inserted religious scenes in his vast panoramas. The latter, composed of numerous elements – villages, towns, ports, castles, forests, rocks, mountains – were intended as snippets of the visible world, so called “cosmic landscapes”. Our work displays all these elements, distributed throughout the various planes which are differentiated by the use of atmospheric perspective called ‘sfumato’. The colours become paler and paler and increasingly blue as the elements fade into the background, giving the impression of distance.

The presence of the owl, considered as Bles’ signature, is brought to our attention thanks to Joseph who is pointing at it. The painter also differentiates the planes through colours starting with brown, then green, quickly followed by blue. The picturesque details, like the small characters present at all levels, which are rarer in the master's work, later become omnipresent in his landscape paintings.

[1] Herri Met de Bles, Landscape with Saint Jerome, panel, 75,7 x 105,8 cm, Namur, Musée des Arts anciens du Namurois, inv. n° 158.

Provenance :
Lord Northwick, Thirlestane House, Cheltenham;
Sale Philips, London, 26 July 1859, lot no. 914 or 1777;
Lord Northwick, Northwick Park (1864);
Lady Northwick, Northwick Park;
Capitain E.G. Spencer-Churchill, Northwick Park (1921);
Sale Spencer-Churchill, Christie’s, London, 28 May 1965, lot no. 47;
Hallborough Galleries, London;
M.A. Hassid, England (1970);
Günter and Anneliese Henle, Duisburg (1970);
Sale Günter and Annelise Henle, Sotheby’s, London, 3 December 1997, lot no. 30;
De Jonckheere Gallery, Paris;
Private collection.

Littérature :
A catalogue of the Pictures, Works of Art, etc, at Northwick Park, 1864, no. 41;
T. Borenius, A catalogue of the Collection of Pictures at Northwick Park, 1921, no. 112;
M.J. Friedländer, From van Eyck to Bruegel, 1956, ill. 186;
L. van Puyvelde, La peinture flamande au siècle de Bosch et de Bruegel, 1962, p. 227;
W.S. Gibson, “Mirror of the Earth”. The World Landscape in Sixteenth-Century Flemish Painting, 1989, pp. 30, 102, note 126;
L. Serck, Henri Bles et la peinture de paysage dans les Pays-Bas méridionaux avant Bruegel, unpublished doctoral thesis, Université de Louvain, 1990, pp. 371-373;
L. Serck, in J. Toussaint (ed.), Autour de Henri Bles, exhibition catalogue, Namur, 2000, p. 176, no. 12.

Expositions :
Bristol, 1937, no. 137;
London, Royal Academy, Flemish Art 1300-1700, Winter 1953-1954, no. 154;
Namur, Musée des Arts anciens du Namurois, Autour de Henri Bles, 13 May – 1 November 2000, no. 12.