In her revised monograph on the work of Dieric Bouts (2005), Catheline Périer D’Ieteren pointed to the importance of the artist’s two sons, Dieric the Younger and Albrecht, in the development of their father’s workshop. Nonetheless, very little has been written about Bouts’s sons. Dieric the Younger remains a controversial figure in art historical scholarship. No paintings can be attributed to him with certainty. By contrast, a triptych with the Assumption of the Virgin in the Brussels museum can readily be attributed to Albrecht’s hand. The Bouts family’s coat of arms appears near the top of the triptych’s right panel. Within the escutcheon the letter A can be seen, indicating Albrecht’s presence. This also suggests that one of the donors witnessing the scene is likely a self-portrait. In many ways, this painting, completed in mid career around 1495, provides the lynchpin for Henderiks’s other attributions.
Unlike Dieric Bouts the Elder, Albrecht’s name is not mentioned in primary early modern sources such as Giorgio Vasari, Jean Lemaire, or Karel van Mander. Only Jan Molanus, professor of theology at the University of Louvain, takes note of the artist in his 1575 chronicle of the city. Molanus credits Albrecht with painting an Assumption for the chapel of Notre-Dame-hor-les-murs (Onze-Lieve-Vrouw-van-Ginderbuiten) in Louvain. It was the city archivist Edward van Even who in 1863 identified the painting described by Molanus with the triptych in Brussels.
In the first chapter of this lavishly illustrated volume, Henderiks provides a brief historical survey of the ways in which scholars have defined Albrecht’s corpus of work. The ensuing lack of consensus warrants the need for further study. Like her scholarly predecessors, Henderiks employs traditional tools of connoisseurship, stylistic and iconographical analysis. However, she also examines more recently discovered archival sources and makes use of scientific evidence gathered from infrared reflectography and dendrochronology.
The second chapter focuses on Albrecht’s biography. His name is mentioned numerous times in civic archival records. It first appears in 1473, documenting the date on which his father acknowledged the independence of his two sons and eldest daughter from his workshop. Although Henderiks does not discuss Bouts’s daughter Catharina in much detail, she must have been an active member in his atelier. From this archival source Henderiks extrapolates that Albrecht must have been born between 1451 and 1455. He must have had a long and productive career since in 1524, when he was near or in his seventies, he served as Dean of the Drapers’ Guild. His name repeatedly appears in guild transactions.
In the third chapter, Henderiks examines works that she believes to have been completed by Albrecht’s hand, beginning with his training and early career in his father’s studio. Among the three works that she attributes to Albrecht during this period is a copy in reverse (Brussels) of Dieric the Elder’s Christ in the House of Simon (Berlin). The two paintings are nearly identical in scale and appear to have been made in the same workshop.
According to Henderiks, Albrecht’s style changed in the 1480s. He began to incorporate into his work stylistic features associated with Hugo van der Goes. For instance, in the outer wings of a triptych representing Moses and Gideon (San Antonio), the monumentality and assertive plasticity of the Old Testament prophets are reminiscent of Hugo’s imagery, even though the figure of the burning bush is similar to that found in a painting of Moses attributed to Bouts’s workshop (Philadelphia). This stylistic combination can also be seen in Albrecht’s St. Christopher (Modena). The panel’s composition closely resembles the right wing of the Pearl of Brabant Triptych in Munich, a Boutsian work often attributed to the Master of the Munich Taking of Christ. However, Albrecht’s saintly giant is more dynamic, in a manner more akin to Hugo’s style.
Around 1490, Albrecht seems to have returned to imagery more closely aligned with his father’s workshop. Henderiks argues that Albrecht’s decision may have been made in response to the growing demand among a local clientele for paintings after Louvain’s former official painter, Dieric the Elder. Unfortunately, Henderiks does not adequately explain why Albrecht moved away from his father’s oeuvre in the first place. After all, Dieric the Elder was dead for more than a decade before Albrecht reverted to his old style.
The final two chapters address work produced by Albrecht’s atelier, including two paintings that Henderiks believes were collaborations between the master and his workshop. Albrecht’s atelier copied paintings after Dieric Bouts the Elder in large quantities to be sold primarily on the open market. Not surprisingly, many of these images were made to foster private devotion. Henderiks includes these images within her extensive catalogue raisonné of works linked to Albrecht Bouts and his workshop.
The book closes with an epilogue. Shortly before its publication, Henderiks reattributed a momento mori portrait in the Brukenthal Collection (Sibiu, Romania) to Albrecht’s hand. Traditionally, the elderly man holding a skull has been considered to be an unidentified sitter painted by the Master of the Legend of St. Augustine, yet according to Henderiks, the panel is a self-portrait, produced fifteen to twenty years after Albrecht depicted himself in the Brussels Assumption.
Although readers may question particular attributions or at times think that Henderiks is unnecessarily splitting hairs, the text and its comprehensive catalogue raisonné not only offer a deeper understanding of Albrecht Bouts and his imagery, but they also, and perhaps more importantly, encourage us to take a closer look at pictures produced by the Bouts workshop.