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Herri Met de Bles

Panoramic landscape with the Sermon of St. John the Baptist

Panel: 37 x 28 cm
Signed with an owl, the artist’s symbol (in a crevice in the rock, in the centre)

introduction

This Panoramic landscape with the Sermon of St. John the Baptist perfectly illustrates the subjects that brought fame to Herri Met de Bles, nephew of Joachim Patinir, and equally brilliant painter. In a landscape with flowing contours and a distant horizon line, the master chooses the theme of the Sermon of St. John the Baptist to give body to the landscape. Although landscape still wasn’t a genre in itself, it existed through portrayals of the Old Testament. The figures, who were supposed to foreshadow the reality of the New Testament, were inserted into vast expanses. In this case, the Sermon of St. John the Baptist reminds us of the message conveyed by the latter, i.e. that although blinded by original sin, humanity can now restore the true perspective. The sermon also serves to convert those who, according to Isaiah’s prediction, have turned away from God. Thus, John the Baptist often appears addressing a crowd, inciting those present to be baptised. What is interesting about this vast crowd is its great variety – tax collectors, soldiers and prostitutes - emphasising the universal nature of John the Baptist’s message.

The different versions of this theme follow the same format overall. We can see the three traditional staggered, coloured planes, with the sermon scene generally in the shade on the left-hand side. The preacher stretches out his arm, thus enjoining his audience to go towards the “light”, represented here by the crystalline horizon line. The hustle and bustle generated by the preacher’s words is remarkably conveyed by the movement of the colourful crowd.

The beauty of the characters and the splendour of the landscape in which the painter has placed them lie at the source of the popular success of this type of painting in the 16th century. The painter finds the ideal pretext to portray a river landscape with a limitless horizon, without obscuring the biblical episode.

Provenance :
Private collection, Munich