Because of its location in the geographical center of the continental United States, the Nelson-Atkins Museum is perhaps less familiar than its peers, but it offers artistic treasures from almost all regions and periods (indeed, its Chinese collection remains one of America’s strongest). Supervised by former curator Roger Ward, the second of a series of systematic catalogues of both European and American paintings in Kansas City has now appeared under the auspices of Burton Dunbar, noted specialist in Netherlandish paintings and drawings, whose long-term appointment at the University of Missouri-Kansas City has given him intimate understanding of this collection. Dunbar introduces the volume with an essay on the history of the collection, followed by two further technical essays. Molly Faries discusses infrared reflectography and other methods of technical examination; her particular observations are noted in the catalogue entries. Additionly, Peter Klein’s study of the dendrochronology of the collection confirms plausible presumed dates for the major works on panel.
The dust jacket of this volume shows the range of riches in the collection, presenting two Netherlandish paintings that span the time period: on the cover Petrus Christus’s charming Madonna and Child in a Domestic Interior; on the reverse Wtewael’s large Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian. Individual entries offer richly detailed discussion and illustrations, including color details, infrareds of key elements, and numerous comparative images. The catalogue comprises two segments: German paintings (1491-1558) and Netherlandish paintings (1454/55-1600).
Sometimes designations are almost too fine or even confusing within the literature. The very first image, Saints George and Wolfgang (no. 1), closely associated with the Housebook Master (or rather Master of the Amsterdam Cabinet), is now rechristened (following Daniel Hess) as “Master of the Monis Altar,” located in Frankfurt at the turn of the sixteenth century. This entry is complemented by a notable recent German publication: the Frankfurt Städel catalogue of early German paintings (Bodo Brinkmann and Stephan Kemperdick, 2002, 334-345), which shows the other wing of the same Monis Altar from the Frankfurt Dominican church. Another fine entry on Erhard Altdorfer’s St. John on Patmos (no. 2) successfully links this image with its mates from the Lambach Altarpiece (c. 1515; Regensburg, Historisches Museum), even as it helpfully identifies one bird on the branches as a female bullfinch (one of many helpful details of this meticulous catalogue) and reveals careful brush underdrawing imagery by Molly Faries.
Kansas City also features a remarkable Cranach Last Judgement, here dated to the 1520s, whose entry (no. 3) incorporates the recent dissertation by Bonnie Noble on Cranach and Luther (1998); however, these nude figures compare closely with the Berlin Fountain of Youth, a later work (dated 1546), and underscore the lack of dating discussion in the entry. Another substantial Cranach image of nudes is the 1535 Three Graces (1535; no. 4). In similar fashion, Cranach the Younger’s bearded portrait (1538; no. 5, on beech) could use a closer comparison in Chicago (F-R no. 416, also dated 1538, recently de-accessioned in a Sotheby’s auction). Good Barthel Bruyn the Younger betrothal pendants round out the Nelson-Atkins German holdings.
Hayne de Bruxelles’s Cambrai icon copy, Notre Dame de Grâce, a precious document of religious art practice, is often discussed, most recently in the late Byzantine exhibition, Faith and Power(Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2004, no. 350). Petrus Christus’s religious panel, here dated 1460-67 (no. 9) is a model entry (123-147), which ranges across its underdrawing, relationship of space to Van Eyck models, late dating, perspective construction, iconographic motifs and comparisons, as well as a highly original reading of the entire scene as an offering of the Christ Child for his mission by the Madonna before a bed that simultaneously denotes both her throne and virginity. Some formal comparisons link the work to Burgundian court manuscripts by Jean le Tavernier, following the lead of Ainsworth’s analysis (1995). The entry of another notable image, Memling’s early Madonna and Child Enthroned (c. 1465/70; no. 10), carefully attends to contour underdrawings and perspectival construction.
One new work, not visible while the museum was recently in renovation, portrays a Benedictine Abbot (called “School of Bruges,” c. 1500; no. 11), with comparisons. Another unfamiliar work is a well-painted Bosch workshop Temptation of St. Anthony (no. 14; Unverfehrt, 1980, no. 34b). The catalogue also features a truly notable large triptych from the early sixteenth-century Leiden School (“Circle of Aertgen van Leyden,” no. 19), which deserves comparison to works in the Lakenhal and displays dazzling underdrawing and substantial changes.
For other Kansas City highlights of Netherlandish painting, already well-known but deserving wider notice, these rich entries provide an indispensable touchstone. An early Van Orley panel depicts The Knighting of Saint Martin by Emperor Constantine (c. 1514; no. 15; mate in the Metropolitan Museum, New York), a wing from a work for the Benedictine Abbey in Marchiennes, near Tournai, commissioned by Jacques Coëne. Jan Gossaert’s important portrait of Jean de Carondelet (1525/30; no. 17), paired with the Tournai St. Donatian, probably flanked a central Madonna of the Grapes (Berlin). Faries’s underdrawing studies especially illuminate two landscapes: a Saint. Jerome by the Master of the Female Half-Lengths (c. 1525/30; no. 18) and a Herri met de Bles Good Samaritan (c. 1545-50; no. 22). A splendid Italianate Madonna and Child with Carnation (c. 1535; no. 21) by Joos van Cleve provides a paragon of this kind of work (no. 91 in John Hand’s 2004 monograph). Finally, the end of the century is amply represented by a rare Martin de Vos, Saint Andrew (1600/03; no. 24), and by Wtewael’s Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian (1600; no. 25; entry by Anne Lowenthal), the artist’s only monumental male saint and martyrdom.
Clearly a visit to Kansas City will repay the effort for any HNA member. But until that time, this well-produced and authoritative volume will provide all the necessary information and resources that a scholar could want.
University of Pennsylvania