Monday, 23 April 2018

What's the link between the 1440/50 Lempertz painting and Dirk Bouts?

Lempertz, from Germany, sells on a "Netherlandish Master, ca. 1440/1450" Pieta, a very small (20 by 15 cm) oil on panel estimated at 6,000 to 8,000 Euro.

I already tweeted about this work, but it probably deserves the full blog treatment. 

From the period 1440/1450, very few paintings survive, most by masters like Van Eyck and Van der Weyden. Others active then include Hugo Van der Goes and from about 1450 on Dirk Bouts. Contrary to what one might expect, few of those have a gold-painted background, most have some form of landscape, interior, ... unlike Italian or German paintings from the period. Such golden backgrounds seem to be more popular in the later 15th century in Flanders, with people like the Master of the Gold Brocade.

The painting for sale most closely resembles the work of Dirk (Dieric) Bouts and his followers, including two of his sons. The face of Christ and the position of the hands of Mary, with the intertwined fingers, both resemble a Lamentation by Bouts from the Louvre, dated to circa 1460.

Both have Christ as a dead human, not some God in a suspended state. The work for sale takes this even further though, with the grey-blue lips and greyish body colour. The Virgin in that version also isn't some young, beautiful, mourning woman, but an older, grief-stricken mother.

Such realism is not common for depictions of Mary and Jesus, who were gods or godlike, not human like everyone else. The artistic quality though, while certainly not bad, isn't up to par with the composition, so perhaps it is a copy after an older and better work?

The only way I see to place it in 1440/1450 is to see it as the oldest known painting by Dieric Bouts, a somewhat clumsy prototype for his later work like the above Lamentation. In that case, it should be worth a lot (a huge lot even) more than the estimation.

If it is (as is of course more likely) a follower of Bouts, someone like Dirk Bouts II, then the estimate is probably right, but the date is off. by some 40 years at least.


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