Early Netherlandish Painting: From Van Eyck to Bruegel

By Max J. Friedlænder | Go to book overview

JAN PROVOST

ACCORDING to documents brought to light by James Weale, Jan Provost came from Mons, a town in the Southern Netherlands lying close to the present French frontier, not far from Valenciennes and Maubeuge. It would seem, so Hulin hints, that Weale found a trace of the master at Valenciennes.1 But confirmation for this is still outstanding. Provost, who appears to have been born in 1462, and is thus not younger than Quentin Massys, attempted to gain a footing in Antwerp two years later than Quentin Massys, namely in 1493, in which year he is entered as master in the guild lists of the town (' Jan Provoost'). But in 1494 he became master at Bruges, where he remained until his death in 1529. It is certainly not his origin and schooling that justify us in reckoning him to the Bruges masters but rather his long and successful activity in the Flemish city.

When Provost settled at Bruges, Memlinc was the representative of the recognized school but for the younger generation, and certainly for the painters who had come via Antwerp, a representative of an out-moded and old-fashioned style. Gerard David belonged to the same generation as Provost. The newcomer had to establish himself successfully alongside David, whose art seemed relatively archaic and bound by ecclesiastic convention.

With Provost a worldly, turbulent spirit penetrates from the South to the musty cloistral calm of Bruges. Antwerp was the centre to which the younger talents flocked from every part of the Netherlands where, less oppressed by tradition than at Bruges, they could exchange ideas freely and promote rapid innovations. Provost seems to have kept up his relations with Antwerp. At least when Dürer was there in 1520 Provost was there too, made contact with the Nuremberg artist and accompanied him to Bruges on April 6th, 1521.

By a fortunate chance the Last Judgement painted by Provost in 1525, for the Bruges Town Hall, has escaped destruction. This panel was the starting-point for research on Provost. It enabled us to detect the hand

____________________
1
At Valenciennes before 1491, Provost married the widow of Simon Marmion, Jeanne de Quaronbe. He is said to have become a burgess of Valenciennes in 1498. See Friedländer, Die Altniederländische Malerei, IX, 1931, p. 74.

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