During the last decade, a growing body of literature has redefined our views of many leading Netherlandish artists working in the first half of the sixteenth century. These studies include the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s outstanding exhibition catalogues devoted to Pieter Coecke van Aelst (Grand Design: Pieter Coecke van Aelst and RenaissanceTapestry, Elizabeth A. H. Cleland, Maryan W. Ainsworth, Stijn Alsteens, and Nadine Orenstein, 2014-15) and Jan Gossart (Man, Myth, and Sensual Pleasures: Jan Gossart’s Renaissance, Maryan W. Ainsworth, Stijn Alsteens, and Nadine Orenstein, 2010-11), as well as the excellent catalogue of the work of Jacob Cornelisz van Oostsanen (Jacob Cornelisz van Oostsanen (ca. 1475-1533): de renaissance in Amsterdam en Alkmaar, Amsterdam and Alkmaar, Peter van den Brink et al., 2014). The 2011 exhibition of Lucas van Leyden and his circle (Lucas van Leyden en de Renaissance, ed. Christiaan Vogelaar, Leiden) made clear that an updated study of Cornelisz Engebrechtsz, the first major artist active in Leiden, was long overdue. Walter Gibson and Jan Piet Filedt Kok have now produced this important new monograph on Engebrechtsz, co-authored with Yvette Bruijnen with contributions by Esther van Duijn and Peter Klein, which re-evaluates this significant artist and his workshop with authority and insight.
The text stems from Walter Gibson’s doctoral dissertation on Engebrechtsz, written at Harvard in the late1960s and published by Garland in1977. With Gibson’s participation, Filedt Kok revised this older study in light of more recent methodological and technical approaches. From 1997 to 2012, the authors systematically examined the paintings, often removed from their frames, and conducted technical studies, particularly with infrared reflectography, that were unavailable to Gibson in the 1960s. Their physical studies revealed many new insights about the artist’s techniques and working process. Filedt Kok devotes two chapters to the oeuvre of Engebrechtsz. and his workshop, another chapter to the workshop itself, and an additional chapter to the artist’s son Pieter Cornelisz., a painted-glass designer who may have executed some panels usually ascribed to his father. In an introductory chapter, Bruijnen presents a substantial new biography of the artist and his three sons, including Pieter along with artists Cornelis and Lucas, and an appendix provides transcriptions of documents, many previously unpublished. Bruijnen acknowledges the assistance of Jeremy Bangs for many of the unpublished documents. These five chapters are followed by an illustrated catalogue raisonnécompiled by Filedt Kok and Gibson, comprising fifty-four entries for paintings by Engebrechtsz. and his workshop. In addition, the authors assign one drawing to the artist himself and attribute four sheets to the shop. Further, in two separate appendices, Esther van Duijn examines the artist’s use of patterns in rendering gold-brocaded velvets in his paintings, a useful criterion in judging attributions, and Peter Klein analyzes dendochronological evidence, an aid in dating the paintings. Finally, Filedt Kok provides a checklist of Pieter Cornelisz’s thirty-three monogrammed and/or dated drawings.
Engebrechtsz’s earliest known paintings date from the first decade of the sixteenth century, when he was in his forties. Filedt Kok divides the artist’s career into an earlier phase characterized by the LamentationTriptych of circa 1508, painted for the Mariënpoel convent near Leiden, and a later phase centered on the Crucifixion Triptych, made for the same convent around 1517-20 and considered the artist’s major work. In his chapter on the early phase, Filedt Kok examines the artist’s stylistic development and wide-ranging sources. While our knowledge of earlier North Netherlandish art is limited because so little survives, the Lamentation Triptych and related works reveal clear ties to the tradition of Geertgen tot Sint Jans and the Haarlem school. Engebrechtsz. also responded to art of the South Netherlands, especially the flamboyant, energetic style of the so-called Antwerp Mannerists, suggesting a stay in the Southern Netherlands, although no documentation proves such a trip. Among the paintings grouped around the Lamentation Triptych, several small tondo panels are accepted as autograph, and Filedt Kok notes that the format, although frequently used for paintings in the South Netherlands, is rare in the North at this time except for painted-glass roundels. Because the one accepted drawing by Engebrechtsz. is a glass design, as are several more workshop sheets, and because Pieter Cornelisz. produced many small-scale glass designs, Filedt Kok suggests intriguingly that the Engebrechtsz. shop may have made a specialty of this increasingly popular art form.
In his chapter on Engebrechtsz’s later phase, Filedt Kok analyzes the influence of the Antwerp style in the Mariënpoel Crucifixion Triptychand other works, also noting that Engebrechtsz. may have adopted these artists’ techniques, such as using thinner layers of paint and executing sketchier backgrounds, in order to produce paintings more quickly. Among the works Filedt Kok dates to this period are the Emperor Constantine and St. Helena (Munich), panels of Christ in the House of Mary and Martha and the rare scene of Christ Taking Leave of his Mother, both in Amsterdam, and the Calling of Saint Matthew(Berlin). In addition, attributions to other artists are considered. The Vienna Triptych with the Healing of Naaman is ascribed to Pieter Cornelisz., the artist’s son. In the chapter on Engebrechtsz’s workshop, Aertgen van Leyden is proposed as the painter of a Christ and the Adulterous Woman (whereabouts unknown).
The authors carefully analyze each work associated with Engebrechtsz., addressing attribution, style, subject, patronage, and working procedure. As a result, the artist emerges more clearly as a figure of accomplishment and influence, and as the head of a productive workshop. The present book now serves as the standard work on Engebrechtsz. It also lays the groundwork for other figures, such as Pieter Cornelisz. and Aertgen van Leyden, to come out of the shadows and to help define a more nuanced history of North Netherlandish art.
State University of New York at New Paltz