Early Netherlandish Paintings: Rediscovery, Reception, and Research

Early Netherlandish Paintings: Rediscovery, Reception, and Research

Early Netherlandish Paintings: Rediscovery, Reception, and Research

Early Netherlandish Paintings: Rediscovery, Reception, and Research

Synopsis

The so-called Flemish Primitives, a group of fifteenth-century painters from the southern Netherlands, acquired their name in the nineteenth century. Among them were world-famous artists such as Rogier van der Weyden, Hans Memling, the brothers Van Eyck, and Huge van der Goes. Their masterpieces, oil paintings minutely detailed in luminous color, are a high point of Western European art, which, together with the Italian Renaissance paintings, laid the foundations for modern art. This book focuses on the artistic, religious, and social significance of their art and its iconographic interpretations, as well as how the paintings themselves were collected, evaluated, and studied over the centuries.

Excerpt

In the early nineteenth century, Johanna Schopenhauer, the mother of the great philosopher, visited the collection of early Netherlandish and early German pictures of the Boisserée brothers in Heidelberg. the visit inspired her to learn more about the masters who executed the works, and the result was a two-volume book about `Jan van Eyck and his followers', published in 1822, the first monograph on this subject. That Johanna Schopenhauer's desire to know more about these artists led to a publication can be attributed to her passion for writing — she produced one book after another — but also to the state of affairs in her day. So little was known about the artists that she had to gather information for herself, and it is understandable that she wanted others to benefit from her efforts.

Thanks to the ensuing flood of publications, present-day lovers of early Netherlandish painting find themselves in a totally different position. They have at their disposal catalogues, handbooks, monographs, myriad articles, and many public collections. and yet, the further one delves into this art and what has been written about it, the more one realizes the impossibility of gaining a full and coherent image of its history, not only because of the paucity of historical data, concerning for instance the mysterious figure of Hubert van Eyck, but also because art historians operate from different premises regarding the interpretation of the pictures. Thus, our understanding of early Netherlandish painting cannot be separated from an awareness of the fragmentary character of our knowledge and from the theories and methods according to which it has been studied. This book explores consequently how paintings and facts have been assembled, analyzed and interpreted from the time of the rediscovery of this art around 1800 to the present day. the works are not discussed in a continuous, chronological survey of developments, as in a traditional handbook, but as individual objects, which have come down to us in various ways and have confronted scholars with countless questions. All the pictures were created in the fifteenth century by masters in the Netherlands, then ruled by the dukes of Burgundy. the chronological demarcation is . . .

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