The writings of Carl Van de Velde are well-known to all students of Netherlandish art. The publication Florissant – its title a play on one of Van de Velde’s favorite subjects – serves as a Festschrift to this eminent art historian and offers a variety of scholarly pleasures for those interested in this area of art history. The twin foci of the collection are the works of the brothers Floris and of those of Peter Paul Rubens, a choice that nicely maps Professor Van de Velde’s interests in the art of both the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. As is usual inFestschriften, this compilation comprises short pieces on focused topics.
Several articles enrich our understanding of mid sixteenth-century art in Antwerp, building on the foundational work of Van de Velde’s monograph on the painter Frans Floris (1975). Dominique Allart and Cécile Oger contribute an essay on the role of drawing in the workshop of Lambert Lombard, the teacher of Frans Floris and many others. They treat the various services that Lombard’s drawings performed, as workshop capital, studies for paintings, and preliminary sketches for engravings.
Floris’s famous group portrait of the Berchem Family (Lier, Stedelijk Museum Wuyts – van Campen en Baron Caroly) is the subject of Arnout Balis’s study. Balis pursues an interesting detail in this picture; the small animal seeking the shelter of his host’s lap is identified as a mongoose, a rare domesticated animal in the cultural capital of Antwerp with a dignified pedigree among classical writers. The animal found favor both in later bestiaries and with humanist zoologists of the sixteenth century, such as Pierre Gilles and Pierre Belon, whose interest in the mongoose gave it a contemporary gloss and a standard iconography. As such, the mongoose functioned as a sign of social standing, intellectual interest, and, perhaps, christological symbolism.
Ann Diels probes another aspect of Floris’s art, his activity as a designer of prints. Her study of Floris’s series of engravings representing the Ars mechanicae analyzes both their socio-economic meaning and their less obvious political references. The series was first published in 1574 by Philips Galle, but it was designed several years earlier, probably around 1566, by Floris – thus at a time of religious and political tension in Antwerp. The series begins, as expected, with farming, the raising of livestock, shipping, and weaving or textile manufacture. More problematic is the inclusion of the art of war and politics – addenda that Diels relates to the contemporary political situation in the Netherlands.
The decoration of Floris’s house in Antwerp occupies Ilja Veldman, who identifies the central figure in the painting of the arts as a personification of Practice. She proceeds to recount the long tradition of Practice and Diligence as the central virtues in the ideology of the arts in the early modern Netherlands. Nicole Dacos, for her part, ; concentrates on Floris’s entourage, particularly the ill-defined figure of Jan Soens, who was deeply influenced by Floris, although Van Mander mentions him as an apprentice of Gillis Mostaert. Dacos brings new attributions to drawings and paintings, and comments on the art industry around Frans Floris in Antwerp and Italy.
Two articles are dedicated to that other Floris, Cornelis (II) Floris, the leading sculptor in Antwerp and brother of Frans. Linda Van Dijck details the recovery of a memorial plaque from a house in Antwerp that bears a dedication to Mayor Anton van Stralen and others along with the date 1557. It is carved in the style of Cornelis Floris and resembles the funeral inscriptions that accompany his tombs in Herlufsholm, Denmark. Tine Meganck contributes an article on Cornelis Floris and Floris-related tombs in the Baltic. She discusses the political and dynastic relations between leading families in Northern Germany, Denmark, Poland, and the free city of Gdansk and their use of Netherlandish sculptors to create effective memorials.
Several other studies address additional topics in Netherlandish painting and sculpture. Griet Steyaert’s essay focuses on a work from the fifteenth century: the Triptych of the Martyrdom of St. Hippolitusin the Cathedral of St. Salvator in Bruges. The central panel is accepted as a work by Dirk Bouts and the left panel securely ascribed to Hugo van der Goes. Steyaert attributes the right panel to Aert van den Bossche, a sometime follower of Hugo. And Dirk de Vos writes on the inscription surrounding Jan van Eyck’s portrait of Jan de Leeuw.
Further sixteenth-century studies are offered by several scholars. Stefaan Hautekeete turns to the drawings by Pieter Baltens and their contribution to the development of the genre of landscape in the Netherlands. Kristof Michiels provides a study of the artistic beginnings of Gillis Mostaert, the origins of his figure style, and his collaboration with Cornelis van Dalem, Hans Vredeman de Vries, Jacob Grimmer, and other painters. And Larry Silver writes about a Dutch series of equestrian prints by Lucas van Leyden and others from the early sixteenth century and their relation to Hapsburg politics.
The collection moves to the work of Rubens with Christine Van Mulders’s essay on Venus Disarming Mars (Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum), a collaboration between Rubens and Jan Breughel. Van Mulders examines the various permutations of this theme in the oeuvres of both artists, analyzing their relative responsibility for these compositions and their heightened interest in similar themes. Kristin Lohse Belkin discusses two sixteenth-century drawings of peasant subjects that were heavily retouched by Rubens. She links them to Rubens’s longstanding interest in rural and pastoral subjects, in Pieter Bruegel and in their tradition in Netherlandish art with their playful and erotic overtones. And Juliusz A. Chroscicki treats Rubens’m s preparatory studies for the Marriage of Marie de’ Medici from the Medici Cycle, showing how the artist was keenly attuned to the political significance of the various changes and emendations he made in the process of design.
Rounding up topics drawn from seventeenth-century art are a number of additional papers. Natasja Peeters discusses the fascinating altarpiece for the Antwerp Guild of St. Luke from 1602, a collaboration between three of the most important predecessors of Rubens: Maarten de Vos, Otto van Veen, and Ambrosius Francken. Justus Müller Hofstede introduces a pair of unpublished early works by Abraham Janssens. The late Frans Baudouin contributes an article on the statues of the Habsburg kings of the House of Austria that Rubens designed for the Pompa Introitus Ferdinandi in 1635. Two years later, Baudouin shows, the statues had been transplanted to the palace on the Coudenberg in Brussels. Hans Vlieghe introduces the Ghent painter Melchior de la Mars, an artist inspired by both the international Caravaggesque vogue and by the Brussels painter Theodor van Loon. And Elizabeth McGrath authors a piece on the series of the continents by Jan Boeckhorst and their relationship to other depictions of Africans in European art of the time
In the remaining papers, Hilde Cuvelier offers insights into Van Mander’s Grondt, Lydia Deveen-De Pauw places Judith Leyster’s Porposal (The Hague, Mauritshuis) in the tradition of amorous offers refused, and Pierre Colman introduces Gérard-Léonard Hérard, a sculptor and designer of medals from Liège active at the French court.
Florissant is a commendable tribute to the extensive research that Carl Van de Velde has conducted on Netherlandish art. It appropriately includes a complete bibliography of Van de Velde’s writings.
Ethan Matt Kavaler
University of Toronto