Welcome to the latest newsletter from the De Jonckheere Gallery. This edition comes to you from France, where we are exhibiting some exciting acquistions at Fine-Arts Paris. The fair takes place from November 6th to 11th in the Carrousel de Louvre – a stunning underground space beneath the courtyard of the Louvre itself. We’d like to put a spotlight on three pieces that we will be showing:Mater Doloros and Ecce Homo, a devotional diptych by Dirk Bouts; an important portrait of Martin Lutherfrom Lucas Cranach; and The Garden of Eden and the Fall of Man, a stunning Biblical scene by Jan Brueghel the Younger.
The Cranach portrait is a striking portrayal of the prime mover of the Reformation. Lucas Cranach was a friend of Luther’s as well as his official portrait painter, and his studio produced numerous iterations of this work. They were sent out to German courts – as if by looking at the features of Luther, a questioning prince might get a sense of what Lutheranism was all about. And true enough, the painting does convey something of Luther’s new Christianity. There is a natural clarity in the way the sitter is lit, and a freshness in the decorative blue-green background. And there is intellectual rigour in Luther’s gaze, which scans the theological horizon like the searching beam of a lighthouse.
The truth of the Bout workshop diptych is entirely emotional. The right-hand panel depicts a mournful Christ in a crown of thorns. The Passion is still ahead of him, so what we see is the Man of Sorrows, resigned to doing God’s will. His hands are held in a position that suggests a bird’s wings – surely the dove that symbolises the Holy Spirit: this tells us what sustains the soul through any ordeal. The left-hand panel is a portrayal of Mary as the grieving mother. Her head is inclined towards her son’s: they share in the suffering as they share a marked family resemblance. Together they make a powerful, prayerful object – a kind of double icon designed to focus the spiritual attention of the onlooker. It is the sheer mastery of the artist that makes this possible.
Brueghel’s depiction of the Garden of Eden, meanwhile, is all joy. On one level it is a celebration of God’s creation, a exuberant zoo in oils. The central tree – the Tree of Life – is alive with parakeets and other colourful birds. The foreground is teeming with animals, exotic and familiar: dogs and ducks, a pair of playful cheetahs, wolves, ostriches, a lone marmoset. The unfolding human drama goes almost unnoticed. Hidden in the background we see Adam accepting an apple from Eve, a distant snapshot of the Fall. This is the catastrophe that Bouts’ weary Jesus is trying to reverse, and that Cranach’s intelligent Luther is striving to explain. Sin, deliverance and the road to salvation – all in three fabulous paintings.
Do please come and see these and other works at our booth in Carrousel de Louvre if you are in Paris this week. We will be delighted to greet you there. Or else visit the virtual tour where you can take a 3D experience of all the paintings we have on show: here is a link to the virtual tour. We will be happy to talk to you about any of the works – in person in Paris, or by email if you are elsewhere.