Investigating ‘a forgotten chapter of Antwerp painting, 1500-1530,’ the exhibition ExtravagAnt!, shared in 2005-06 by the Bonnefantenmuseum, Maastricht, and the Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp, attempted a different kind of publication. It divided its findings between a conventional, well illustrated catalogue and a dedicated, oversized volume of the Antwerp Museum’s Annual. The catalogue has been reviewed separately (HNA Newsletter and Review of Books, April 2007), but this collection of scholarly essays offers an opportunity to reflect on new and recent knowledge about this material as well as the range of methods currently employed in the study of Netherlandish painting.
Like any good study, the Jaarboek begins with its foundations. Till-Holger Borchert discusses Max. J. Friedländer on connoisseurship, because the cornerstone of research on the so-called ‘Antwerp Mannerists’ (including that designation) stems from volume XI of the masterwork Early Netherlandish Painting (1933; English ed. 1974), itself built on earlier studies (especially in 1915) and museum attributions. Quotations, including unpublished materials, make this article a landmark of methodology in its own right, underscoring the essential role of intuition in connoisseurship.
In the most fundamental, extended contribution by the Jaarboek, Peter van den Brink emphasizes the importance of drawings in these Antwerp workshops. He notes over 350 drawings, a major cache. This truly seminal study provides a methodological model: it outlines functions (sketches, sketchbooks, models, contract designs), forms (roundels, series), and case studies of exchanges between Antwerp and France (later instances in Rebecca Zorach, Blood, Milk, Ink, Gold: Abundance and Excess in the French Renaissance, Chicago, 2005). He considers the production process of the drawings themselves, using studies by Konowitz on Dirk Vellert, and he also distinguishes between the character of underdrawings and drawings, noting the difficulties posed by Notnamen and the complexities of attribution posed in such a workshop production process with tracings, studies, and underdrawings. One claim: Van den Brink uses underdrawings to distinguish between the older Master of 1518 and Pieter Coecke van Aelst, despite Marlier’s attempts to conflate the two oeuvres. Prompting discussion, he also adds a quartet of drawings to Ewing’s list for Jan de Beer and offers a host of other attributions, while noting how many of these drawings, led by Vellert, are for glass roundels.
These insights are extended in another long contribution by Micha Leeflang on workshop practices, making expert use of infrared reflectography in dialogue with archival discoveries by Jan van der Stock. Using case study wings (Cologne, Västeras, Kempen, Lübeck, and Warsaw), this piece offers a primer of what we know about apprentices, specialist assistants, and contractors in the production of altarpieces and closely examines underdrawings (including ‘woodcut’ graphic style) as guidelines with inscriptions and color notations and consistency of practice. Models for figures or compositions and changes during the process can thus be articulated.
Using documents and statistics, Maximiliaan Maartens concludes that only Rome had more ateliers during this period, abetted by the burgeoning Baltic trade (where many carved retables were shipped) as well as a growing, prosperous middle class. He provides instances of artist networks, but notes that master status was closely restricted by the deans of the guild in order to maintain prices, even as process innovation encouraged efficiency of production in workshops. Thus, he claims, a ‘ mass market’ never developed as sometimes is claimed for Antwerp Mannerism and sculpted retables.
Dan Ewing’s essay focuses on altarpieces featurering the Adoration of the Magi as a signature subject for Antwerp Mannerism and for the city more generally (cf. Rubens, 1609). This theme contains motifs that, he shrewdly observes, liken the Magi to long-distance foreign traders gathering in Antwerp. And he notes the popularity of the Magi’s names for leading local merchants. Complementing this analysis, Yao-Fen You notes the local importance of Antwerp’s luxury textile industry and its visual effects within Antwerp Mannerist imagery.
Godehard Hoffmann, ‘Compound Altarpieces in Context,’ analyzes closely the case study of the Lower Rhine region between Antwerp and Cologne, unduly neglected yet a major site for exports of Antwerp retables, many extant. His photo survey and map are useful in themselves, but his inspection of examples like the three altarpieces in Kempen, particularly its documented St. Anne Altarpiece paintings, 1513, by Adriaen van Overbeke, also the contractor, provides the core for a suite of related works in the region. He also identifies Friedländer’s Master of the Antwerp Crucifixion with early Overbeke.
Motifs in the images of these Antwerp painters also receive scrutiny. Stephen Goddard meticulously assembles the print sources for their compositions, not only from Dürer (see also Leeflang), but also a long list of other German printmakers, especially Baldung and Cranach, as well as nearby Flemish and Dutch contemporaries, notably Lucas van Leyden. Ornament reliefs also stem from prints, but more generally these artists are sensitive to conventions for themes, what Goddard calls ‘visual literacy.’
Besides the historiography of Friedländer, the most penetrating consideration of form in this art phenomenon is the concluding essay by Paul Vandenbroeck on its ‘ contrived’ style. Laying out a series of visual effects that he sees as defining the move-ment, including ‘embellishments’ or ornament, with resonance in other contemporary art forms, such as music or rhetoric (also architecture, recently analyzed by Ethan Matt Kaveler). His account of their motivation invokes decorative arts and an anti- ‘phallocentric’ creativity (his term), for a more personal and unconscious expression. However much this reaction to Lacanian models will appeal to historians, Vandenbroeck stakes out differences in Antwerp Mannerists as resistance against dominant art models of the standard (‘official’), progressive narrative as he asserts the importance of inventiveness and fantasy in their work.
This book-sized Jaarboek resulted in part from economies concerning the length of the catalogue of the important exhibition, but it does promote a possible model for scholarship in conjunction with temporary installations. The authors (who should be identified by institution and prior publications) can visit a site, share ideas in the form of lectures at a colloquium, then benefit from their cumulative experience to produce a more reflective, interactive, larger, and better informed final statement. This collection of essays and bibliography thus presents a more lasting contribution to knowledge, gained from actual experience of an important exhibition.
Final note: Annick Born’s essay, ‘ Antwerp Mannerism: a fashionable style?’ is here reprinted. It is the only essay included in the exhibition catalogue, previously reviewed in this journal.
University of Pennsylvania