QUENTIN MASSYS was born in 1466 and died in 1530, which makes him a generation younger than Hans Memlinc, a generation older than Bernaert van Orley. What we know of his work was done in full maturity and in old age. We can follow his work without coming upon serious gaps from about 1506 until almost 1530 and can discern the direction that he took. Everything prior to 1506 is obscure or only dimly illumined by hypotheses. It is of little consequence whether the master was born in Antwerp or, as now seems more probable, at Louvain. Even if we were certain that he had spent his youth and apprenticeship at Louvain and had absorbed nothing but Louvain art during his formative years it would not throw much light on his art. We know a little more about Louvain art around 1480 than about the contemporary art in Antwerp--but it is still precious little. The threads that have been spun from Dieric Bouts, the chief master at Louvain, who died in 1476, to Massys are tenuous indeed. Aelbert Bouts, Dieric's son, seems to have been head of a productive workshop at Louvain around 1480 and we think we can recognize the products. But we must not exclude the possibility that artists unknown today made a deeper impression on the young Massys than did the meagre Bouts tradition that we do know.
The only practicable way is to begin where the master's art is fully and richly developed.
By a fortunate coincidence the two accredited works, outstanding apart from their size, are dated or at least can be dated. These two works differ from one another in subject-matter; the sudden change of theme brought astounding variety and richness.
The altarpiece of St. Anne from Louvain, which is now in the Brussels gallery, is inscribed with the date: 1509;1 the altarpiece with the Lamenta tion over Christ at Antwerp was set up in 1511. By making the plausible assumptions that Massys did not work simultaneously on both altarpieces, that the date 1509 marks the conclusion of work on the Brussels altarpiece and, finally, that a period of two years each is not excessive for completing the two sets of five large paintings, on these assumptions