Extending the insights in his own new book, Antwerp after Iconoclasm(Yale/ Mercatorfonds, 2012; reviewed separately), Koen Jonckheere has also co-edited a complementary anthology of essays on the same period by distinguished colleagues: co-editor Suykerbuyk, David Freedberg, Karolien De Clippel, Anne Woollett, Filip Vermeylen, and Thijs Weststeijn. While this Brepols volume does not offer the same rich color illustrations, it does deliver a real diversity of approaches and insights.
Jonckheere’s own essay, “Repetition and the Genesis of Meaning,” uses his findings on Willem Key to emphasize how a willful Flemish archaism combined with references to newer Italian style options – “copying and emulating” – in the open painting marketplace of midcentury Antwerp. To this same phenomenon he also links the younger generation of Gillis Coignet, Adriaen Thomasz Key, and Frans Pourbus the Elder. As in the larger study, he contrasts the emphatic classicism and traditional iconography of arch-Catholic Michiel Coxcie, favorite painter of the Habsburgs, with the pictorial austerity and strict use of Scripture by the younger Key, a Reformed convert, in a process he terms “creating significance through omission.” Such breaches of conventional decorum held deep spiritual significance for the Reformed artists in their process of redefining a religious image for their epoch. Such seemingly minor details indicated both pictorial innovation and personal devotion.
HNA readers will relish the return of David Freedberg to the work of his dissertation in the essay, “Art after Iconoclasm,” though his text is an unmodified symposium talk. His remarks and notes provide a mine of historiography and bibliography, a veritable handbook to these issues. Freedberg reprises the basic issue of the relationship between art and religious politics, stressing the vitality of prints, especially under Philips Galle. He notes the sponsorship of those, including Viglius d’Aytta (also a major figure in Jonckheere’s book), who sought moderation within their official local duties to rule. In 1571 Viglius’ triptych by the Protestant Pourbus for Ghent St. Bavo’s featured portraits historiés alongside the meaningful teaching centerpiece subject of Christ among the Doctors. Freedberg rightly considers the protean painter Martin de Vos, labeling him as a fence-straddling Nicodemist, despite his various ardent patrons, Catholic and Reformed alike, especially Gillis Hooftman. And he claims that pictorial diffidence towards religious imagery in the 1570s after Iconoclasm sparked an impetus towards portraiture and varied other genres, especially in prints.
Karolien De Clippel, a specialist on the nude by Rubens, takes up the nude in prior Antwerp painting, particularly the works of Floris and De Vos. She agrees with Freedberg that after 1570 these figures declined with Protestant prudishness, also seeing more general application of what she labels “self-censorship” in response to Catholic regulations. Moreover, many of those nudes appeared in Last Judgments, not as Bathshebas or Susannas (mostly dated during the 1560s, and mostly Old Testament themes) from the prior generation of Jan Massijs. The same shift also appeared in public progresses between 1549 and 1582 as personifications covered themselves up, though in prints allegories still offered opportunities for artists like de Vos. She concludes plausibly that under different circumstances, the cultural prestige of female nudes as artistic ideals would have generated more eroticism; her principal case study is Bartholomeus Spranger, Flemish emigré at the Prague court of Emperor Rudolf II.
Echoing Jonckheere’s new book and forthcoming monograph, Anne Woollett focuses on the late career of arch-Catholic and Habsburg favorite Michiel Coxcie. She emphasizes how specific altarpieces about Sts. Sebastian and George for the Antwerp schuttersgilden displayed steadfast martyrs’ faith in the 1570s, during the period before the Catholic restoration of 1585. In the process Coxcie fused traditional Netherlandish technique with austere assimilated Italianate forms. For the Habsburgs Coxcie had also replicated venerable Flemish religious monuments: van Eyck’s Ghent Altarpiece and Van der Weyden’s Prado Descent. Woollett helpfully appends the Antwerp document that describes 1581 damage to the Crossbowmen’s Altarpiece.
Filip Vermeylen, Antwerp art market expert, focuses on that topic during 1566-85, particularly on the effects of war. He reaffirms that the Dutch Revolt stimulated art markets and artistic emigration into the North Netherlands, led by Amsterdam and Haarlem, to the detriment of Antwerp. In doing so, he underscores the continuity between emerging Dutch painting and its Antwerp antecedents as a form of “creative destruction” that distributed human capital and artistic expertise. Among the new developments that followed in the North Netherlands, he cites the formation of guilds as protectionist institutions against cheap Flemish imported art and the continuity of art-collecting as a practice, imported by immigrants to the North.
Thijs Weststeijn brings his focus on art theory to “Idols and Ideals” and joins Vermeylen in stressing the continuity between Netherlandish and Dutch painting. He notes that disputes among theologians about the power of images continued outside the religious struggles amidst a general impulse toward mimesis in art. Both Calvinists and Catholics attacked each other with the same premises of being lured by images, whether religious “idols” or sensuous nudes. Finally the “Book of Nature” linked mimetic art to religious sensibility for all denominations.
As this summary reveals, these essays are strong, original, and fascinating. Best read along with Jonckheere’s own fuller volume, each one addresses larger period issues distinctively; together, they provide an index of current methodology, sometime dovetailing nicely, perhaps due to being published after a symposium. Ultimately, this volume provides rich testimony of current scholars’ variety and vitality for this important, newly investigated period.
University of Pennsylvania