Alejandro Vergara has performed an enormous service for scholarship on Nether-landish painting. By mounting a Patinir exhibition around the core collection of the Prado, he transformed a focus exhibition into a definitive investigation of the artist’s entire oeuvre, the first since Robert Koch’s monograph of 1968. In the process he extended our knowledge beyond received wisdom (earlier studies by Gibson, Falkenburg, and Bakker, plus Silver on Antwerp genres; see review above). Moreover, by including works that have sometimes been dismissed with the label ‘workshop,’s Vergara provides both a current, expanded catalogue raisonné of 29 works (12 of them of greater size and top quality) within a contemporary sense of the importance of collaboration in production of the ‘Patinir’ trademark for the nascent art market in Antwerp.
Vergara’s own illuminating introduction stresses how Patinir developed a ‘process innovation’ in his workshop, including repetition of motifs and collaboration with different figure specialists, even while developing a distinctive personal authorship: ‘He combines the productivity of Van Cleve with the individuality of Bosch, whose advantageous marriage also gave him some freedom as an artist’ (p. 33). Vergara also summarizes the artist’s German (especially Lucas Rem) and Italian (especially Cardinal Grimani) collectors as well as Philip II and lost works owned by Felipe de Guevara after mid-century in Spain. He wavers between whether or not to see natural elements as symbolic, even whether to credit Patinir as primarily a painter of religious images or of newly self-conscious landscape imagery (I personally do not think that these qualities need to be an either/or choice, but a matter of emphasis by viewers, whether then or now).
Other essays in the catalogue offer original insights. Vergara has chosen outstanding contributors. Maximiliaan Martens evaluates written sources (collected as Appendix I) and archival documents to extend a sketchy biography: born in either Bouvignes or Dinant, Antwerp master in 1515, died in 1524, but also a first marriage (of two) into the rich Buyst family. Another social historical study by Dan Ewing addresses the topic of Patinir and the market, for which the majority of his paintings were made on spec. He singles out three characteristics of the oeuvre: responsiveness to taste, product identity (especially in his distinctive mountain types) or ‘brand name,’ and buyer-specific appeal. Ewing also notes the appeal of these images for traveling merchants as clients. Tables enumerate production by five Antwerp workshops as well as numbers of assistants, leading to the conclusion that Patinir’s output is surprisingly small in light of both his repetitions and numerous small-scale works. Ewing also notes Patinir’s unusual lack of extramural cultural activities. Perhaps the reason stems from his prosperous spouse? Or his pursuit of high-end commissions?
A pair of essays consider Patinir’s contribution to landscape history. Catherine Reynolds chiefly considers the sources and meanings of landscape, pointing out precedents of both for Patinir in fifteenth-century Flemish paintings, including landscape specialization itself (e.g., the Master of the Embroidered Foliage; cf. Vergara, 26, following Gombert), as well as German prints. She also focuses helpfully on early regional maps, surely closer, and on contemporary uses of the term’landscape ‘ itself (107-09). Her consideration of secular mural decorations, especially on cloth, is worthwhile, but most examples are lost, known only from descriptions, although both manuscripts and prints suggest their appearance. Her suggestions are bolstered by the fine essay by Thomas Kren on fifteenth-century Netherlandish manuscript landscape imagery, from the Turin-Milan Hours (c. 1440-45) onwards, especially under Burgundian ducal patronage. Vernacular world histories in particular as well as the more familiar calendar pages call forth suggestions of topography. For those who missed Kren’s landmark Getty exhibition of these manuscripts (Illuminating the Renaissance , 2003), these color reproductions will be a revelation. Kren also names names – especially Lieven van Lathem, from Antwerp – of manuscript illuminators who ought to be in any landscape discussion.
Closely connected to the layout of landscapes are the drawings associated with Patinir as well as the important sketchbooks, probably made just after his death, notably the Errera Sketchbook (c. 1530-40). These are well discussed by Stefaan Hautekeete (cf. also Christopher Wood’s discussion of 1998 in the Herri met de Bles volume from Princeton). This material has been the least discussed aspect of Patinir, except for processes of workshop replication (for the status of drawings and their varied functions, cf. William Robinson and Martha Wolff in The Age of Bruegel, Washington, 1986). The Rotterdam drawing most often called a Patinir (and copied as such in 1597; Cracow) has stippled foliage and strong hatching, closer (if less finished) to Cornelis Massys drawings than to the Errera Sketchbook, Hautekeete’s attribution. A sketchier Berlin St. Christopher and a pair of forests on colored paper remain up to the eye of the beholder. But these discussions reopen an important topic: sixteenth-century landscape drawings.
Finally, Reindert Falkenburg makes his own freshly original revisit – ‘ The Devil is in the Detail’ – to his own fundamental Patinir interpretations. While still positing antithetical iconography in these settings, he suggests now that physical perception is a deception, a devilish vision of outward appearance, to be overcome by truly spiritual insight. In his view, Bosch is the true precedent for Patinir, in content as much as in form. In particular, Bosch’s Ghent St. Jerome contains a hidden hellish setting shaped like a skull, a legacy of the Mouth of Hell tradition, in its very foreground. How much of this is relevant to Patinir remains moot, but Bles and others later echo such themes.
The catalogue generously provides good color reproductions, including details of the paintings, and technical studies. It will obviously be the touchstone reference for any future Patinir studies. Additionally, Vergara’s exhibition now becomes a model for what can be accomplished for art history through the site of a key museum with the ambitious guidance of a learned curator.
Final note: One major bibliography entry from Reynolds’s essay – Bosch’0 s Prado Epiphany Triptych was probably commissioned between 1491-98 from an Antwerp draper; she cites X. Duquenne, “La famille Scheyfve et Jérome Bosch,” Le Intermédiaire des Généalogistes54, no. 349, 2004, 1-19, a work unknown to me and even to Marijinssen in his 2007 Bosch monograph.
University of Pennsylvania