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See collection:

Quentin Massys


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Quentin Massys

born c. 1465, /66, Louvain, Brabant [now in Belgium]
died 1530, Antwerp


Massys also spelled Matsys, Metsys, or Messys Flemish artist, the first important painter of the Antwerp school.

Trained as a blacksmith in his native Louvain, Massys is said to have studied painting after falling in love with an artist's daughter. In 1491 he went to Antwerp and was admitted in to the painters' guild.


Among Massys' early works are two pictures of the Virgin and Child. His most celebrated paintings are two large triptych altarpieces, “The Holy Kinship,” or “St. Anne Altarpiece,” ordered for the Church of Saint-Pieter in Louvain (1507–09), and “The Entombment of the Lord” (c. 1508–11), both of which exhibit strong religious feeling and precision of detail. His tendency to accentuate individual expression is demonstrated in such pictures as “The Old Man and the Courtesan” and “The Money Changer and His Wife” (see photograph). “Christus Salvator Mundi” and “The Virgin in Prayer” display serene dignity. Pictures with figures on a smaller scale are a polyptych, the scattered parts of which have been reassembled, and a later “Virgin and Child.” His landscape backgrounds are in the style of one of his contemporaries, the Flemish artist Joachim Patinir; the landscape depicted in Massys' “The Crucifixion” is believed to be the work of Patinir.  Massys painted many notable portraits, including one of his friend Erasmus.

Although his portraiture is more subjective and personal than that of Albrecht Durer or Hans Holbein, Massys' painting may have been influenced by both German masters. Massys' lost “St. Jerome in His Study,” of which a copy survives in Vienna, is indebted to Dürer's “St. Jerome,” now in Lisbon. Some Italian influence may also be detected, as in “Virgin and Child” (Nationalmuseum, Poznań, Pol.), in which the figures are obviously copied from Leonardo da Vinci's “Virgin of the Rocks” (Louvre).

Massys' two sons were artists. Jan (1509–75), who became a master in the guild of Antwerp in 1531, was banished in 1543 for his heretical opinions, spent 15 years in Italy or France, and returned to Antwerp in 1558. His early pictures were imitations of his father's work, but a half-length “Judith with the Head of Holofernes” of a later date, now in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, shows Italian or French influence, as does “Lot and His Daughters” (1563; Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna). Cornelis Massys (1513–79), Quentin's second son, became a master painter in 1531, painting landscapes in his father's style and also executing engravings.

                        
 


Quentin Massys

  

Old Woman (The Queen of Tunis)
   
 
(Norbert Schneider)
 

Massys
Portrait of an Old Man
1517

 

 

 

Although there was rationalism in the impulse to produce empirically correct representations of external reality, the portrait was still imbued with talismanic properties in the minds of most spectators. The likeness had a magical ability to "act" vicariously, as a kind of proxy for the absent person.
A new art form, the caricature, which first appeared in the early sixteenth century - long before the brothers Agostino and Annibale Carracci, the artists who are said to have invented it - clearly shows that the visual distortion of the human likeness, especially the face, was used as a means of vicariously satisfying the need to express hatred or aggression towards certain persons. Thus the objects of hatred were scorned and ridiculed by disfiguring their "effigies". In 1956, Werner Hofmann showed that new norms of beauty and bodily proportion must already have evolved for distortions of this kind - the distension or shrinking of ears, nose, mouth or forehead, for example - to be considered at all funny. Particular ideals of beauty became socially acceptable, making it possible to discriminate against deviants on the grounds that their conduct was unconventional, or unnatural. This development had evidently reached most of Europe by the last third of the fifteenth century. Its parallel in literature was Grobianism, or the Rabelaisian style, which amounted to a satirical attack on behaviour which did not conform to social decencies and rules of courtly etiquette which had filtered down from the aristocracy to the bourgeoisie.
This painting — generally attributed to Quentin Massys or one of his circle - of an old woman whose face appears to have
been deliberately distorted in the interests of grotesque humour, makes full use of compositional techniques developed by fifteenth-century Netherlandish and Italian portraitists. Wearing an immense horned bonnet, and with a corset pressing together her flabby breasts, the old woman sits with her left hand on a parapet in front of her, while her right engages in some form of gesticulation. But is this really a portrait, a painting purporting to represent the likeness of a particular person? The painting is based on a model which is now lost and which Leonardo may have used in an early drawing (Windsor Castle, N° 12492). Giorgio Vasari reports that Leonardo was moved by an insatiable desire to observe unusual and deformed faces. His interest in these phenomena sprang from his work on a canon of ideal bodilv proportions. The new standards of beauty no longer allowed for natural irregularities in a person's appearance, but disqualified these as infringements against the social ideal. Despite their emphatic "semantics of individuality" (Niklas Luhmann), Renaissance humanists criticised the individual as ultimately defying classification, and therefore social integration. Whenever beauty is linked to intelligence or ethical integrity, anything that does not correspond to the aesthetic ideal is viewed not only as ugly, but as an expression of abject stupidity, or immorality.

                      

Massys
Portrait of an Old Man
(detail)
1517

Van Eyck's ruthless registration of the "unbeautiful" details of his sitter's appearance, which was evidently quite acceptable to his patrons, shows that the idea of ugliness as an aesthetic category had not entered contemporary thinking on art or everyday life by the early fifteenth century. Massys, on the other hand, painted his Old Woman by engaging in systematic deviation from the norm. The method that he evolved had much in common with the experiments in deformation to be found in Durer's sketchbooks on proportion. Moreover, the old woman's costume would also have amused Massys's contemporaries, since they would have found it quite old-fashioned. Her bonnet, a "hennin" as it was called, "was worn in, or shortly before, 1450, as can be seen from Jan van Eyck's portrait of his wife Margaret in 1439 (Bruges). The artist's satirical attention to the woman's age would also have ridiculed her in the eyes of his contemporanes, who had begun to think of age as something ugly, and youth as a positive quality, as revealed by paintings which show different human ages, or the portraits of "unequal lovers".
Leonardo's and Massys's grotesque studies of human disproportions created a precedent which could - without a second thought for the problems of mimesis or verisimilitude - be used, or abused, in all kinds of satire. Graphic reproductions of these works have reappeared under various guises ever since: in Wenzel Hollar's King and Queen of Tunis, for example, or as the likeness of "Countess Margaret of Tirol" (died 1369). Massys's painting was even passed off in the seventeenth century as a portrait of Pope Pius VI's sister, Princess Porcia, who was supposed to have attempted to rescue religion with an army of Jesuits (Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale, Cabinet des Estampes).

   


Leonardo da Vinci
Grotesque Heads
(details)
1494





Leonardo's caricatures were a side product of studies he undertook to establish ideal human proportions. They also illustrate the precept of diversity ("varieta"), which he had outlined in his treatise on painting. Here, Leonardo was referring to the great variety of natural forms, to which the creative artist was capable of adding by inventing new ones.

 

 

 





 

 

 

See collection:  Quentin Massys
 
                    

 


Money Makes the World Go Round


Trade and coins in early modern times
    

 

      
When the little "moutons d'or" were devalued to twelve "sous parisis", there was no bread, no wine nor anything else. The money changers refused to pay a decent rate of exchange. And people hoarded their money although it was worth nothing. Many simply tossed their coins right over the money changers' shops into the river.

From the diary of an anonymous Parisian, 1427
           

Massys
The Moneylender and his Wife
1514
   

The Money Lenders, after Massys by Jan Ravestyn

 

The term "trade" was first used in the modern sense in ancient Egypt. From the fourth millennium BC, the land of the Pharaohs maintained trade links with other civilisations. These commercial ties consisted primarily of the bartering of goods, such as raw materials, hides, tools, even the bright-coloured feathers of exotic birds, valuable shells and, of course, precious stones. The Persians were the ones to invent the mintage of coins. The bartering of goods gradually yielded to payment in currency, although the heyday of the coin did not arise until the Middle Ages, when importing goods became of primary importance. Suddenly Venetian, Genoese and Pisan ships were sailing across the Mediterranean to meet caravans bringing silk overland from China or spices from India. On returning to their home ports, the Italian manners sold their valuable cargoes to merchants. In the Holy Roman Empire, for instance, powerful mercantile enterprises sprang up everywhere. The Hanseatic League controlled trade to and from the North Sea and the Baltic coasts.
Once the era of overseas discovery and exploration was well underway, trade became a global matter. At that time, paper money (a Chinese invention) was used in Europe merely as a receipt for monies tendered, and the material value of coins still corresponded to their nominal value. Yet money looked different depending on where one went. Only money changers were able to determine the value of a coin by looking at it through a magnifying glass and by placing it on the scales to find out its exact gold or silver content. For this reason money changers were an indispensable part of life in the great trade centres and market towns. Even the man in the street required their services. Without the money changers a soldier who wanted a tankard of beer in the town where he was garrisoned would have had to drink water if he had carned only the currency of his native city. Flemish painter Quentin Massys observed a money changer at work in Antwerp. At that time the city was the main port of the Low Countries, and bustled with economic activity. Money changers enjoyed high status. Nevertheless, they were always suspected of being stingy, avaricious and of charging exorbitant interest. Perhaps the wife of the money changer depicted is contemplating a prayer book in the pious hope that she and her husband will not be led into temptation by the lure of riches....

    

Massys
The Moneylender and his Wife
(detail)
1514


See collection:  Quentin Massys
 
 

 

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