Early Netherlandish Painting: From Van Eyck to Bruegel

By Max J. Friedlænder | Go to book overview
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PETRUS CHRISTUS

JAN VAN EYCK died in 1441 at Bruges, where he had worked for the greater part of his last decade. In 1444 Petrus Christus became free master at Bruges. He was a native of Baerle, probably the place of that name that lies between Tilburg and Turnhout. As far as our scrappy knowledge goes, this Petrus represents Bruges painting for the period between 1444 and 1472, that is to say for the time between Jan van Eyck's death and the appearance of Memlinc. Bruges art in the second third of the century appears to us as the aftermath of the Eyck tradition, whether Christus was a pupil of Jan or not. Actually there is no lack of indications to suggest that several masters who worked in other parts of the Netherlands, such as the Master of Flémalle, Rogier van der Weyden or Dieric Bouts, intervened in some way in the art of the flourishing commercial city. They came and went but Petrus Christus remained. And his dependence on Jan borders on the parasitical.

A reflection of Eyckian art emanates from everything done by Petrus, endowing the poor achievements with prestige and glamour. His doll-like figures are generally of medium height, they have wide heads in which the temples, foreheads and cheeks seem broad and empty, whilst eyes, mouth and nose are close together. The figures are stuck in wide balloon- like garments with contours that are straight or round and everywhere of little mobility. The large high-set ear is often visible. The hands are short and plump. The sparse hair hangs down in strands.

Especially Eyckian is the small panel in the Berlin Museum with the Virgin and St. Barbara, the so-called Exeter Madonna, presented by the same Carthusian friar who presented the Jan van Eyck Madonna with Two Female Saints belonging to the heirs of Baron Gustave de Rothschild, Paris.1 Petrus Christus borrowed as much as he needed from the richer composition. His holy women do not rise above the level of pleasant friendliness. It is instructive to compare the stiff outline which divides St. Barbara's hair from her face and the dreary contour that terminates the saint's gown with the expressive drawing of the Eyckian model. Most nearly successful in the Eyckian sense is the portrait of a Monk (the halo is probably a later addition) privately owned at Valencia.2

____________________
1
Now in the Frick Collection, New York.
2
Now Metropolitan Museum, New York.

-14-

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