Jan Gossaert, called Mabuse
7th Tiberius Auction
Jan Gossaert, called Mabuse
Antwerp 1478 – 1532 Antwerp, Circle of
1. half of the 16. century
Oil on oak panel
57 x 42 cm, with frame 68 x 54,5 cm
This museum-quality painting shows the mother of God, Mary, in a contemplative pose together with the playful baby Jesus sitting on a table in front of her. The scene is set in an interior room. Mary is looking diagonally down to the left, while the child is depicted looking to the right. With the index finger of his right hand, he points in the same direction, while the back of his left-hand touches that of his mother. This tender posture illustrates the intimate relationship between mother and child. Furthermore, the different directions of gaze typically indicate the role of the Virgin as an intercessor who usually turns towards the viewers. Here the humanity of the child is particularly emphasised, being depicted naked and having barely thrown on the draped cloth. The child’s little feet seem to be kicking merrily, illustrating the child-like aspect of Christ. Mary, however, is shown extremely pensive and introspective, probably already referring to the future Passion of her son. She wears a luxurious gown with gold trim and a velvety, heavy overgarment draped intricately over her shoulders and arms.
The composition is probably a variation of the important late work by the Dutch Renaissance painter Jan Gossaert, called Mabuse (Antwerp 1478 – 1532 ibid.), although the artistic execution, location and colouring are entirely different. The panel painting from 1531 can be seen today in the Cleveland Museum of Art (inv. no. 1972.47). Research has shown that this composition has strong similarities with two works by Albrecht Dürer (1471 Nuremberg – 1528 ibid.): the drawing of the 93-year-old man from 1521 (Albertina Graphic Collection, inv. no. 3167) and the painting of Mary and Child with the Pear from 1512 (Kunsthistorisches Museum Gemäldegalerie, inv. no. 848). Furthermore, Mary’s veil draped naturalistically over her head is particularly striking here and is probably definitely based on Gossaert’s work.
Unlike Gossaert’s work, however, an interior with particularly striking shadows is shown here, with the light coming from the upper left. Furthermore, the colouring and modelling of the skin and fabric are different; these are particularly strong, bright colours that are further emphasised by bold contrasts of light and dark. This combination of dark undergarment with gold border and red cloak is also seen in other Madonna depictions by Gossaert. The painting is also characterised by sharp facial contours as well as blackened outlines of the textile. Other interesting divergent aspects are the child’s face, which is modelled less childlike and wiser, and Mary’s look away from the child, whereas Gossaert depicts his Mary looking towards her child. This is a shift of meaning in the overall expression: both the changed direction of gaze and the location in an interior space make the scene immediately tangible, as if one were looking through a window into a house and finding the group of figures sitting there.
These features – luminous colouring and black outlines – are particularly typical of an artist whose name is unknown and who was given the provisional name “Master of the Female Half-Figures”. This artist was active in the south of the Netherlands and in Antwerp between 1525 and 1550. His numerous unsigned paintings mostly show single female half-figure portraits, whereby he enjoyed the favour of both ecclesiastical and secular patrons and thus used various compositional schemes; most probably also a model after which Gossaert also produced his work. This is therefore an important work by a masterful painter who moved in Gossaert’s circle.
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