Our painting is one of five middle 16th century versions painted in Holland after a lost original by Jan van Scorel, which probably hung in the St Mary’s Church of Utrecht.
Van Scorel was a leading so-called Romanist painter, who introduced the Italian High Renaissance art in Holland at his return from Rome. During the short reign (1522 – 1523) of the only Dutch pope, Adrian VI, he was appointed painter of the Vatican, where he fell under the influence of Raphael and of Michelangelo.
About Jan van Scorel
Schoorl 1495 – 1562 Utrecht
Important Renaissance painter of history subjects (biblical and mythological), of portraits and of landscapes.
Van Scorel was born in the small village of Schoorl, hence his last name Scorel, close to the famous Egmond Abbey, not far from Alkmaar. He was the illegitimate son of the local priest.
It is not exactly known whom he studied painting with, nor where in Holland. He must have studied under Cornelis Willemsz. In Haarlem, was an assistant of Jacob Cornelisz. van Oostsanen in Amsterdam and worked for a short time in Utrecht with Jan Gossaert.
At a young age, in his early twenties, he started travelling to Nuremberg (where he met Albrecht Dürer), Venice and even to the Holy Land, where he visited Jerusalem and Bethlehem. He returned to Venice (falling under the influence of Giorgione) in September 1520. Two years later he travelled to Rome, where a compatriot had been elected pope. Pope Adrian VI reigned for just one and a half year, between January 9th 1522 and September 14th 1523. Van Scorel was appointed by him as Painter of the Vatican and as Curator of the Papal archaeological collections (of ‘idols’ as the Pope called them) in the Belvedere.
Van Scorel returned to Holland in 1524 and settled in Utrecht. He was a real polyvalent Renaissance artist, an Uomo Universale, active as a painter, architect, engineer, musician and poet. He even became canon of the St Mary’s Church, where he supposedly painted the lost original of our painting for. He had a large and important workshop. In 1550 he even participated in the restoration of Flanders most valued painting, the Ghent Altarpiece by Hubert and Jan van Eyck. Sadly many of van Scorel’s paintings (altarpieces) were destroyed three years after his death, in 1566, during the Protestant Reformation Iconoclasm.
About our painting
The composition of our painting and of a few other known versions, all also dating from the second or third quarter of the 16th century, go back to a lost original of Jan van Scorel. According to Molly Fairies (who wrote her dissertation on Jan van Scorel in 1972), this lost prototype might have been one of the wings of an altarpiece in the Mariakerk in Utrecht. This altarpiece is mentioned by Karel van Mander (1548–1606), who also pointed to its destruction during the iconoclastic riots of 1566.
The only horizontal composition, probably the earliest and best version, is set against a landscape background. It is being attributed to a pupil of Scorel: either to Lambert Sustris, Maerten van Heemskerck or Herman Posthumus. I also found another very beautiful vertical version of our composition in the Museo Nazionale d’Abruzzo in L’Aquila, which is attributed there to Herman Posthumus (1512 – 1566).
The Renaissance building and sculptures in all these paintings clearly refer to Rome, where van Scorel had lived for two years.
The pose of Saint Joseph with his head resting on his hand, leaning over a classical funerary altar, was undoubtedly inspired by an initial sketched composition by Raphael which Giulio Romano, his favourite pupil and assistant, used for his painting ‘The Holy Family under an Oak Tree ‘of circa 1518 in the Prado Museum, Madrid.
Why should you buy this painting?
Because this sweet scene testifies of the early Romanist, Italian-inspired Renaissance art in Holland.