Regular readers of this Review might recognize the whimsically named Museum Het Zotte Kunstkabinett from its earlier exhibition, De Zotte Schilders (2003), catalogue by Eric De Bruyn and Jan Op de Beeck. Both that catalogue and this one originated from a Mechelen research institute, Centrum voor oude kunst ‘t Vliegend Peert, named for the historic pand of the city where it is housed. Now Op de Beeck returns with a smaller study – in three languages (Dutch, French, and English) – about the widow of Pieter Coecke van Aelst, Mayken Verhulst.
Although she was named by Guicciardini as one of the four most important female artists in the Low Countries (1567), little documentation sustains our knowledge of this woman (though Adolf Monballieu studied her Mechelen painters’ family, summarized here), known for her miniatures and tempera pictures. Most notably, she supervised the posthumous publication (1553) of the seven-part woodcut frieze designed by Coecke, Ces Moeurs et Fachons de Faire des Turcz. We can observe (with Timothy Riggs) that in this respect Verhulst was followed by another publisher’s widow, Hieronymus Cock’s wife, after 1570. Indeed, an evaluative study of Coecke himself beyond the monograph by Marlier (1966) is long overdue
Op de Beeck’s bombshell is his identification (following Simone Bergmans, 1963) that Mayken Verhulst was the widely influential but still anonymous (despite facile attempts to equate him with Jan van Amstel) Master of the Brunswick Monogram. But his enlarged illustration of the monogram (p. 94) clearly reveals other letters – A and S besides V, I, and M – that undermine this hypothesis (he reads the I as “inventor”).
While Coecke’s woodcuts are well known (recently included in the New York exhibition of late Byzantine art, Faith and Power, 2004, no. 253), this catalogue shows all inscriptions and includes the full seven images from a version in the Plantin-Moretus Museum in Antwerp, so it will be useful for study purposes. However, this catalogue does not offer much new interpretive material, and its English translations needed proofreading by a native speaker.
A final chapter appears only in Dutch (with resumés) and summarizes the state of our knowledge about Bruegel, Pieter Baltens, and Mechelen, notably their side wings for the documented altarpiece (1550-51) for the glovers’ guild.
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