This excellent, lavishly illustrated catalogue is Godelieve Denhaene’s latest study to expand our understanding of Lambert Lombard, the mid-sixteenth-century Liègeois antiquarian, draftsman, painter, and architect. It appears in conjunction with the 2006 exhibition and conference proceedings commemorating the 500th anniversary of his birth.
Of all the major Netherlandish Romanists, Lombard has received the least amount of scholarly attention. A spate of early monographs, most notably by Adolph Goldschmidt (1919), did not yield a more intensive,self-sustaining field of study. This lack of detailed attention should not surprise us; scholarship on sixteenth-century Italianate Netherlanders has always lagged behind the discussion on Bosch or Brueghel. Perhaps Lombard has been the most spurned of those who brought the all’antica manner north because he practiced in a relatively peripheral town and his painted oeuvre is both small and dubiously attributed. However, an abundance of material beckons. Lombard and his atelier produced nearly 1,000 drawings that are still available to us: original designs, life studies, copies after antiquities and works by contemporaries. His Vita by his pupil Domenicus Lampsonius describes Lombard’s importance for a Liègeois antiquarianism that was significant and connected with other centers. For a time, Lombard was also the master of Frans Floris, Hubert Goltzius, and William Key. And a letter by Lombard to Vasari is tantalizingly suggestive of a sophisticated art theory. Surely, this treasure trove has always recommended more attention for Lombard than he has received.
Enter Denhaene, who has worked since the late 1970s to bring Lombard to light. Before the present volume, her major publications included a study of his paintings (1987), and a monograph (1990). Denhaene’s most important contribution to Lombard studies, however, has been her work on two sprawling albums containing drawings by the artist and his circle. The Arenberg Album was the subject of her dissertation (finished in 1984, published in 1993). Her study of the recently recovered Clérembault Album followed in 2001. The artist who has emerged from Denhaene’s work still remains the erudite antiquarian whom Lampsonius describes. However, thanks to her, we have a much more nuanced image of Lombard.
This project, Denhaene’s most ambitious to date, marshals a team of twenty-four scholars with varied expertise to bear on Lombard’s oeuvre. The exhibition showcased the most important works from Lombard’s atelier – all freshly restored – featuring all eight of Lombard’s Femmes Vertueuses paintings, reunited for the first time since the eighteenth century. Also present were the highly contested predella paintings of the St. Denis Altarpiece and a generous selection of drawings. The resulting catalogue boasts over thirty essays in lucid French grouped into sections on historiography, Lombard’s drawings, paintings, and influence, followed by 154 entries on exhibited works and an ample body of comparative material.
Collectively, the historical essays convey the breadth of Lombard’s enterprise. Franz Bierlaire provides a concise, copiously referenced overview of Liègeois humanism. Denhaene analyzes Lampsonius’s Vita, examines Lombard’s vision of antiquity, and gives an overdue study of prints after his designs. Isabelle Lecocq reveals Clérembault no. 67 as the source for a stained glass design in Liège’s Saint-Paul Cathedral. Marie-Élisabeth Henneau, Cécile Oger, and Jacques Debergh probe the local significance of St. Denis and Femmes Vertueuses iconography. Lombard’s Antwerp students form the focus of Carl Van de Velde’s essay. Pierre-Yves Kairis speculates on the identities of Lombard’s unknown students. Sophie Denoël reveals the effects of Lombard’s classicism on manuscript illumination in Liège.
More essays describe technical findings resulting from restoration efforts. The most compelling use these new data data to revisit larger questions. Laboratory results prompt Denhaene to demote the St. Denis Altarpiece predella paintings to “Lambert Lombard ?” status (Nicole Dacos’s reattribution to Lambert Suavius notwithstanding). Marie Postec’s discovery of locally applied varnishes on some Femmes Vertueuses paintings raises questions about the use of Italian techniques in Lombard’s atelier. Jana Sanyova and Steven Saverwyns conduct a magnificent analysis of paint layers in the works on view. They find a range of techniques too diverse to be Lombard’s alone and cast doubt on a single workshop process. Along with scores of drawings, a dearth of paintings securely attributable to Lombard, and Lampsonius’s claim that his master preferred working in monochrome to color, these technical discoveries support what many have long suspected: perhaps Lombard had pupils execute his designs rather than paint them himself. Even in unexpected ways, then, this volume reinforces our time-honored perception of Lombard as pictor doctus, the Romanist antiquarian with heavy theoretical leanings.
Readers will notice a need for continued refining of our thoughts concerning Lombard’s identity: how did the Roman journey shape his ideas about antiquity and artistic production? Denhaene sees Lombard’s rejection of all art except that of antiquity (55) in Lampsonius’s claim that Lombard did not place Michelangelo on an equal footing with the ancients. Suggesting otherwise, however, Lombard’s Holy Women at the Tomb (cat. no. 138), shows unequivocally that he was disposed to quoting verbatim from Polidoro da Caravaggio’s Story of Mary Magdalene fresco in Rome’s San Silvestro al Quirinale. Moreover, in his letter to Vasari, Lombard defines antiquity polemically to include northern medieval artifacts. A surprisingly low number of Lombard’s drawings (only six in the Arenberg album) contain identifiable Roman antiquities, which also argues for revised thinking about the vision of antiquity cultivated by Lombard during and after his Roman stay. The notion of Lombard’s “academy” also remains problematic. Though Lombard met Baccio Bandinelli while in Rome, there are no grounds for intimating, as some do in this catalogue, that the Liège painter modeled his studio after the Italian sculptor’s. For that matter, Lampsonius only uses the word “academy” for studios he criticizes. Writers did not begin using that word to describe Lombard’s studio until the nineteenth century. Finally, Lombard’s relations with his patrons also warrant further investigation. No essays address that topic head on.
Thus, as we continue to applaud Denhaene for her thankless work on this difficult but important artist, we also look forward to future installments. This monumental effort is essential reading for scholars of Netherlandish Art.
Arthur J. DiFuria
Moore College of Art and Design
University of Delaware