Growing out of her dissertation, completed in 2000 for the Technische Universität, Berlin, Schollmeyer’s book is a substantial addition to the literature on Lower Rhenish painting. Jan Joest is at once important in his own right and as the teacher of Joos van Cleve who emigrated to Antwerp and Bartholomäus Bruyn the Elder who spent his long career in Cologne. Schollmeyer focuses on three altarpieces: one firmly documented; one ascribed to Joest; and one no longer extant but known through documents.
The first is the high altar of the Nicolaikirche in Kalkar. A committee formed of civic officials and church members began to work on the project in 1488/1490, but the carved center portion depicting the Crucifixion and the carved predella were not completed until 1500/1501. Completing the structure were twenty panels comprising the inner and outer wings painted by Jan Joest and his shop between 1505/1506 and 1508/1509. The outer wings (Werktagsseite) depict scenes from the life of Christ while the inner wings (Feiertagsseite) are concerned with Christ’s Passion as well as Pentecost and the Death of the Virgin. Schollmeyer provides a complete presentation of the documents pertaining to the altarpiece, including a useful history of its restoration from the nineteenth century onward. A brief account of Joest’s working methods leads to a careful exposition of the iconographic and stylistic features of each painting. By virtue of both geography and politics, Lower Rhenish art is a particular amalgam of Netherlandish and German influences. Schollmeyer’s choice of comparisons is indicative of this situation. For example, Joest’s depiction of The Raising of Lazarus is usefully related to Geertgen tot Sint Jans’s painting of the same subject in the Louvre and The Raising of Lazarus by an unknown Cologne painter in the Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle, Durham. There are also associations with stained glass produced in Cologne. Schollmeyer reaffirms the traditional identification of the figure wearing a red hat at the far right of the Ecce Homo as Joest’s self-portrait. In her book on Jan Joest, published in 1997 and reviewed by me in the HNA Newsletter, vol. 16, no. 2, 1999, 35-36, Ulrike Wolff-Thomsen suggests that Joest painted himself in The Raising of Lazarus panel. For an interesting article on artist’s self-portraits see Paul van Calster, “Of Beardless Painters and Red Chaperons. A Fifteenth-Century Whodunit,” Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte, 66, 2003, 465-492.
The second work to be discussed is The Seven Sorrows of the Virgin in the cathedral of San Antolin, Palencia. The inscribed panels bear the date of 1505 and also indicate that the altarpiece was commissioned by the bishop Juan Rodriguez de Fonseca. Following the death of Queen Isabella of Castile in 1504, Fonseca traveled to Brussels where he probably ordered the paintings. It has often been thought by Wolff-Thomsen and others that the artist who is referred to only as “Juan de Holanda” in the cathedral’s Libro de acuerdos was identical to the “Jehan de Holande” active at the court in Brussels from 1503 to 1505 and was Jan Joest. Schollmeyer rejects the attribution of the Palencia panels to Joest for a number of reasons. She finds it difficult to believe that Joest could have traveled to Brussels to work on an altarpiece at the same time that he was working for Kalkar on the high altar in the Nicolaikirche. More importantly her stylistic analyses and comparisons of the Palencia and Kalkar panels lead her to conclude they are by two different artists; one small but telling point, for example, is the presence of Italianate ornament in several of the Kalkar panels and its complete absence in the Palencia panels. In my book on Joos van Cleve I accepted Joest as the author of The Seven Sorrows of the Virgin altar. Although I have yet to see the paintings, after reading Schollmeyer’s discussion I now have serious doubts about Joest’s authorship. Schollmeyer does not attempt to identify Juan de Holanda beyond noting that he worked in Brussels and that there seem to be no other works from his hand.
Lastly, there is the high altar of the Benedictine abbey at Werden, near Essen. It was finished in 1512, but by 1710 was no longer extant. The earliest surviving document, dated 1572, is important for a number of reasons. In addition to giving the date of the altarpiece it also names the artist “Johannes Jodoci Wesaliensis” which clearly seems to be Jan Joest of Wesel. Perhaps the most extraordinary revelation contained in this document is that Jan Joest wanted his paintings cleaned and revarnished every twenty years. In 1541 the task was entrusted to “Bartholomaeum Fuscum ciudem Coloniensem” who is none other than Bartholomäus Bruyn of Cologne. One assumes that Joest’s former pupil would have known how to care for his paintings, but one shudders to imagine what subsequent treatments were like. Schollmeyer discusses this in a separate article, “Zum Umgang mit Firnis um 1500. Jan Joests Verfügung von 1512: eine Quelle,” Zeitschrift für Kunsttechnologie und Konservierung, I, 2004, 93-100.
A major thesis of Wolff-Thomsen’s 1997 publication is that the Jan Joest who painted the wings of the Kalkar high altar was probably born in Haarlem and lived, worked, and died in Haarlem in 1519. Schollmeyer disagrees with this, and exhibiting a masterful and enviable command of archival and documentary sources, demonstrates that there were members of the Joest family in Wesel from the early fifteenth century on. Schollmeyer also notes a number of people named Bruyn or de Bruyn living in Wesel from the early fourteenth century onward and reconfirms in effect the usual notion that Bartholomäus Bruyn the Elder was born in Wesel. Now a quiet town, in the fifteenth century Wesel was a Hanseatic city and a busy center for art and commerce.
Schollmeyer’s book illuminates a fascinating and sometimes neglected portion of Germany’s artistic landscape. The color plates are excellent and for the most part the black and white illustrations are adequate, but some are murky or too small for the complexity of the object they represent.
John Oliver Hand
National Gallery of Art