The second part of this review will appear in November 2007.
The HNA Review of Books should probably review more exhibitions and their catalogues, the more so when an important, if neglected, major episode in Netherlandish art is considered as scrupulously as this one. Despite its cutesy title, the exhibition offers a serious, first-in-a-generation re-examination of the style of paintings – and drawings, well-represented in this catalogue – known since the seminal works of Max. J. Friedländer as “Antwerp Mannerism.” Indeed, for both convenience and because no one has yet superseded Friedländer’s Notnamen, his groupings of anonymous masters are retained here. In addition to the lavishly illustrated, full-color catalogue, short and up-to-date biographies are provided for the named artists of the entries, and Yao-Fen You has appended a most useful and thorough bibliography. A companion volume of the Antwerp Jaarboek(2004/05), reviewed separately, provide full-ranging, contemporary studies by leading scholars of the materials on view.
Annick Born, in the lone catalogue essay, carried over into the Jaarboek, outlines the historiography of this “fashionable style.” Friedländer’s basic groupings of the anonymous masters of this style group – confined to Antwerp in the 1520s – have remained dominant in the sparse literature since 1915, even though the once pejorative aura of Mannerism (by Friedländer in his own cult of creative genius) has itself been rethought and criticized, especially in relation to the larger pan-European, Italian-based Mannerism. Born assesses the sparse basics – firm dates and main traits – of Friedländer’s Antwerp Mannerists, and she also covers the subsequent discussions (especially by Baldass), including such often-disputed terms as “Gothic Mannerism.” Moreover, workshop production methods and varied copies as well as possible collaborations undermine crisp separation of identity – one of the reasons why this Antwerp style has suffered relative neglect in a modern era of prized individual identities.
Of course, as the introduction by Peter van den Brink makes clear, the prolifera-tion of this style was linked to Antwerp’s burgeoning export trade in images, which also included the painted wings of sculpted altarpieces. The very anonymity of these artists, broken only in the case of Jan de Beer (= Master of the Milan Adoration), thanks to a signed drawing uncovered by Hulin de Loo, points to their participation in mass produc-tion and formulaic repetition of figures, settings, motifs, and favorite subjects. In this exhibition all of Friedländer’s name pieces were assembled and supplemented by further attributions for comparison as well as wide representation of the drawings corpus (some forty out of Van den Brink’s estimate of a full roster of more than 350 works on paper!). With so much workshop repetition, the role of drawings demands close consideration as the templates for replication, and this catalogue confirms that process.
Moreover, it records some recent modern discoveries that have already been made. Adriaen van Overbeke, previously notable from a Kempen document as the first datable Antwerp Mannerist work (1513; St. Anne confraternity), has been identified by Godehard Hoffmann as the Master of the Antwerp Crucifixion; additionally Dan Ewing, who devoted a doctoral dissertation to Jan de Beer and contributed many important entries to this catalogue, has associated the Master of Amiens as a member of De Beer’s studio.
Seven decades after Friedländer’s volume XI (1933) only once have these artists received serious display and scholarly attention: the 1969 Bruges installation, Anonieme Vlaamse Primitieven. It could be argued, however, that the 1993 Antwerp exhibition of sculpted altarpieces, organized by Hans van Nieuwdorp, provided the proper analogue – and collaborative system – to reconsider these paintings, so often the wings of Antwerp altarpieces in their own right. While no American images were included in the loans, doubtless due to conservation issues, these images and entries will form the touchstones for re-examining major Antwerp Mannerist pictures in such museums as Philadelphia (an intact altarpiece), Chicago (wings), and San Francisco (Master of Amiens Nativity).
One of the refreshing aspects of Antwerp Mannerism is how it manifests itself as a group phenomenon, even where we do know individual names, e.g. Jan de Beer or Adriaen van Overbeke. The consistency and vividness of this artistic movement impress as well as its durability and its interaction with the work of famous names – Jan Gossaert, Joos van Cleve, and Pieter Coecke van Aelst – in contemporary Flemish painting. Indeed, what this catalogue permits is the appreciation of paintings, known chiefly from Friedländer’s black-and-white reproductions, in full color, large-scale, and full variety. Moreover, for all of the attention given in contemporary German art to the colored papers and inks of Albrecht Altdorfer or Urs Graf, these artists’ drawings can certainly be cele-brated for their own virtuosity and elegance as well as their likely emergence as collectors items and independent art works as well as studies for works in other media. While some of this awareness was manifested in the Washington exhibition of Nether-landish drawings, The Age of Bruegel (1986), only a few “Antwerp Artist” works were featured there and then.
Space does not permit scrutiny of individual entries, though the contributions by Dan Ewing deserve special mention, and the overall organization and specific contributions in entries by Peter van den Brink are especially praiseworthy. Finally, the heroic editorial and organizational skills of Kristin Lohse Belkin, producer of the HNA Newsletter and Review of Books, and Nico van Hout of the Antwerp Koninklijk Museum, helped to produce this catalogue as the lasting reference that it has already become. It should, however, be supplemented by the important Antwerp Jaarboeck companion volume of essays that were not included in the catalogue volume.
There are still groups of works, such as the Jan de Cock group, which are not fully resolved. And there still are suggestive relations between anonymous painters, such as the Master of 1518, and known masters, here Pieter Coecke van Aelst, which remain suggestive (Marlier identified the Master of 1518 with Jan van Dornicke; see biography) or of others towards the younger Jan Gossaert. The connections to other media, such as stained glass (e.g. the Master of the Lille Adoration with Dirk Vellert, as studied by Ellen Konowitz, another contributor to this catalogue) will also repay further study. For all of these topics, ExtravagAnt! will remain the indispensable starting-point.
University of Pennsylvania