Massys was a very important painter from Antwerp. He is considered to have been the last of the so-called Flemish Primitives, as Italian Renaissance elements turned up in his paintings.
His composition of this Mother and Child remained popular for some hundred years, between 1520 and 1620. Our painting dates circa 1600, probably from the first quarter of the 17th century. These Leonardesque figures on a gilded background must have been painted on a brilliant copper plate for the conservative Spanish market.
About Quinten Massys
Flemish painter Leuven 1466 – 1530 Antwerp
His last name is also spelt Metsys or Matsys.
Highly important painter of religious subjects and of portraits, genuine and satirical ones.
It is said that Massys started as an ironsmith. According to Karel van Mander Massys turned to painting when, during sickness, he was too weak to work at the smithy. Fact is that it is not known whom he studied painting with: was it in Leuven under Dirk Bouts or in Bruges under Hans Memling? In 1491, aged 25, he settled as a Master of the Guild of Painters in Antwerp.
His career coincides with the growing importance of Antwerp, while Bruges lost its position as prime harbour, art and business centre of Flanders and of Western Europe.
Massys’ early works are still fundamentally Medieval, Late Gothic, but later in his career he introduced Italian Renaissance elements in his paintings. He was so thorougly influenced by Leonardo da Vinci that some scholars think this could not be just by prints and engravings, but that he did travel to Italy.
About our painting
Massys was a profoundly religious man. He often painted the Virgin and Child, in all sorts of different compositions.
Of our composition exist several versions, dating roughly between 1520, when he was still alive, and circa 1620. Apparently the original version by Massys is probably not known. The two earliest versions date from around 1520/1530, that is from the last decade of his life: one of these, in the Detroit Institute of Arts, is even attributed to the Master himself. These two versions are the only paintings with a landscape backdrop. The Leonardesque influence is evident. After Massys’ death in 1530 the composition remained popular, but painters dropped the landscape.
I date our painting cautiously to the first quarter of the 17th century. During the 16th and 17th century Flemish art was very popular in Europe. Huge numbers of paintings, tapestries, sculptures and objects of art were being exported all over Europe and even to the Spanish colonies in the Americas.
The gilded background of our painting, symbol of heaven, remained popular in Spain. Spanish clients had a conservative taste: for a long time they preferred the profound religious content of Late Medieval paintings above the modern styles of Renaissance and Mannerism.
On top of that Leonardo da Vinci’s art was popular in Spain. See how the physionomy of both our Virgin and Child are endebted to him.
About paintings on copper
Sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth century Flemish artists painted on oak panels, on canvas and on copper. Copper was the most expensive, but also the best support. Wooden panels can suffer from sudden changes in the degree of humidity, canvasses can be torn, while copper plates are less vulnerable.
Because of their even, highly rigid and non-absorbent surface, coppers did not need a preparatory layer (sometimes only a very thin ground) and one can paint extremely precisely, the paint could be applied almost without any visible brushstrokes. In old recipes it was advised to rub the copper plate with garlic, so that the oil paint would adhere better.
As copper was more expensive and as one could paint in a very detailed way on them, most copper plates are therefore of rather small dimensions.
Artists painted on copper delicate, elaborate and highly finished paintings with brilliant pictorial effects. Another advantage of these copper plates today is the fact that they have very little craquelures.
Why should you buy our painting?
Because this is such a happy representation of early motherhood.