This marvelous Festschrift’s subtitle Collaborative Spirit captures one of the defining characteristics of Maryan Ainsworth’s celebrated career as a curator, teacher, and prolific scholar. The three editors’ opening essay, “Maryan W. Ainsworth: An Appreciation,” offers a heartfelt account of her years at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, first as an intern in 1977 and then as a researcher working with John Brealey in the Department of Paintings Conservation. From 2002 until her retirement in 2020, Ainsworth served as the museum’s curator of early Netherlandish, German, and French painting. Due to her close interactions with conservators and scientists, she became fascinated by the processes and materials used by early modern European artists. Along with Molly Faries, Ainsworth was one of the first American scholars to employ infrared reflectography to study early Netherlandish paintings and their underdrawings. She began training graduate interns in the technical examination of paintings starting in 1983; several of her past mentees contributed essays or helped edit this volume. The introduction describes the significance of Ainsworth’s catalogues and other publications, a full listing of which appears in the accompanying bibliography.
The nineteen essays mainly focus on early Netherlandish drawings and paintings. Not surprisingly, nine authors base parts of their arguments on what infrared reflectograms reveal about underdrawings and artists’ intentions. Till-Holger Borchert reports on the Simpson Carson Virgin and Child (c. 1450) by a collaborator of Jan van Eyck that the Groeningemuseum in Bruges acquired in 2019. He concludes that the artist, likely trained elsewhere, created a pastiche based on Van Eyck’s Madonnas or, alternatively, he followed a now-lost drawing by the master. Molly Faries discusses Maarten van Heemskerck’s Lamentation of Christ (c. 1527), recently purchased by the Phoebus Foundation in Antwerp, as a key to understanding the artist’s early career. The application of the underdrawings differs from the method he would learn as a pupil of Jan van Scorel from 1527 to 1530. Maximiliaan P. J. Martens uses close examination to confirm the attribution to Quinten Massys of Christ as the Man of Sorrows (1520-30), bought by The J. Paul Getty Museum in 2018. Martens compares the bust-length portrayal of Christ with Massys’s contemporary Ecce Homo in the Palazzo Ducale in Venice. Sandra Hindriks employs an infrared reflectogram of Konrad Witz’s Saint Christopher (Kunstmuseum Basel) as an opening for considering prevailing theories of optics. The underdrawing reveals that Witz originally planned for a straight staff rather than the final painted staff that cracks under the strain of Christ perched on the saint’s shoulders. Peter Parshall meditates on the lifelikeness of the Christ Child in Hugo van der Goes’s Monforte Altarpiece (Gemäldegalerie, Berlin), noting specifically how the artist captured the unfocused gaze typical of newborn infants. He urges, “We need to allow more room for idle curiosity in our account of the Renaissance artist” (p. 194). Alice Hoppe-Harnoncourt explains the close relationships between Bernhard Strigel’s portraits of the families of Emperor Maximilian I (1518) and Johannes Cuspinian (1520). Using technical analysis, she disproves the suggestion that these panels once formed a diptych. Dan Ewing employs technical and iconographic arguments to disentangle two fragmentary altarpieces by Jan de Beer in Birmingham and Madrid. He does something all too rare in scholarship. Based on his reexamination of the paintings, Ewing changed his opinion and describes why he no longer considers, as he had in 1978, that the panels belonged to the same Marian-themed altarpiece. Peter van den Brink confirms the attribution to Joos van Cleve of the Stigmatization of Saint Francis (c. 1525, private collection) that surfaced on the art market in December 2018 and proposes that it was originally made for a patron in Genoa. Sophie Scully explains the results gleaned from the study and treatment in 2018 of Joos van Cleve’s well-known Annunciation in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. She compares the underdrawings and painting technique with other pictures by the artist to verify its attribution to Van Cleve. Scully speculates that based on its square shape it once was originally the center panel of a triptych.
Several other essays astutely examine individual objects. Keith Christiansen argues that the Italian influences evident in an anonymous Bohemian artist’s Madonna and Child Enthroned (c. 1345-50), acquired by The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2020, represent an early, pre-Master of Vyšši Brod chapter of art at the court of Emperor Charles IV. Stephan Kemperdick proposes a new reconstruction of Petrus Christus’s Annunciation-Nativity and Last Judgment wings (1452, Gemäldegalerie, Berlin) as once flanking a now-lost sculpted Crucifixion. Julien Chapuis and Sophie Hoffmann explore the relationship of Heinrich Hufnagel’s silver Virgin and Child reliquary with its limewood model by Michel Erhart, both in the Bode Museum in Berlin. They describe the processes by which Hufnagel replicated the composition without casting directly from Erhart’s statuette. Thomas Kren discusses the importance of A Priest Offers the Communion Wafer to a Nobleman (c. 1520), a drawing by the Master of James IV of Scotland, acquired by the Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin in 2017. It is a rare extant preparatory sketch for a luxury miniature and serves as proof of the collaboration of different manuscript workshops. Daantje Meuwissen considers Cornelis Anthonisz’s pocket-size Berlin sketchbook (1520-35). The 51 surviving folios contain pen and ink drawings of ornaments, narrative compositions, perspective exercises, animals, and buildings, among other things. Some images served as models for his prints.
The remaining essays demonstrate some of the rich diversity of approaches in our field. Ron Spronk investigates documentary evidence for understanding Jan Provoost’s pre-1500 activities in Valenciennes, Bruges, and Antwerp. He speculates that the absence of records from September 1498 to fall 1501 suggests the wealthy artist may have made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Dagmar Eichberger addresses two sets of Flemish typological tapestries, one with a wide rectangular format and the other square in shape, that Abbot Jacques de Saint-Nectaire commissioned for the abbey church of La Chaise-Dieu before 1518. She links the abbot with the cult of Mary Magdalene and her relics housed in the basilica of Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume. Diane Wolfthal discusses how transient exterior lighting and color conditions affect the appearance of silver-stained glass roundels in ways that one does not experience in painting. Ronda Kasl studies the archival records of a never-delivered set of diplomatic gifts from King Philip II of Spain to Zhu Yijun, the seventeen-year-old Chinese emperor. The viceroy of New Spain argued that the gifts, including textiles, furnishings, and time pieces, would not be appreciated in China and the gesture might be misunderstood by the Wanli emperor as political tribute. In the concluding essay, Melanie Gifford examines Rembrandt’s practice of scratching into wet paint using a squared-off reed pen rather than the brush handle. Although this became a convention imitated by his followers, only Aert de Gelder fully understood Rembrandt’s graphic language of scratching.
The variety and high quality of these essays offer a fitting tribute to Maryan Ainsworth, to the many facets of her illustrious career, and to how her collaborative approach to research has enriched our understanding of early Netherlandish painting.
Jeffrey Chipps Smith
University of Texas, Austin