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Early Netherlandish Painting: Triptych of Madonna and Child with Angels; Donor and His Patron Saint Peter Martyr; and Saint Jerome and His Lion by the Master of the Legend of Saint Lucy Research Paper

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Early Netherlandish Painting: Triptych of Madonna and Child with Angels; Donor and His Patron Saint Peter Martyr; and Saint Jerome and His Lion by the Master of the Legend of Saint Lucy

Introduction

The period of 1420-1550 in the European art is characterized by the development of the early Netherlandish painting. In their works, the early Netherlandish painters focused on the religious motives and the sacred plots and subjects. These elements became the typical features of the early Netherlandish or Flemish painting. The artists chose the complex forms of diptychs and triptychs in order to depict the religious objects, symbols, and images.

The most famous Netherlandish artists belonging to the painting school are Jan van Eyck, Hans Memling, and Gerard David1. Nevertheless, to analyze the particular features of the early Netherlandish religious painting, it is necessary to pay attention to Triptych of Madonna and Child with Angels; Donor and His Patron Saint Peter Martyr; and Saint Jerome and His Lion painted by the anonymous author known as the Master of the Legend of Saint Lucy because of his work in Saint James’ Church in Bruges.

The triptych can be discussed as one of the most characteristic representations of Madonna in the early Netherlandish painting which was reflected in the works of the other Netherlandish painters; that is why, the analysis of this work is important to understand the particular features if the early Netherlandish religious painting.

The Description and Analysis of the Painting

In spite of the fact, the author of Triptych of Madonna and Child with Angels is anonymous, the researchers are inclined to agree that the works of the author of the Legend of Saint Lucy in Saint James’ Church in Bruges can be characterized by a lot of features which help distinguish the author’s paintings and speak about the characteristics of the artist’s hand. These characteristics are the usage of intense and contrast colors, strict compositions, and the focus on expressionless faces2.

Triptych of Madonna and Child with Angels; Donor and His Patron Saint Peter Martyr; and Saint Jerome and His Lion is an oil painting made on the oak panels. It is possible to admit that the work was painted before 1483. Triptychs were the typical form for the early Netherlandish painters to represent the religious plots in symbolic and sacred paintings3.

The triptych depicts Madonna with a child as the central figures and Saints Peter and Jerome as the side figures of the painting. Thus, the idea of the triptych is presented clearly, and the principles of the strict compositions are followed.

Each part of the triptych represents two figures. The central figures are Madonna and Christ, the left figures are the donor and Saint Peter Martyr, and right figures are Saint Jerome and the lion. It is rather easy to recognize the figures because of much detail provided.

Madonna as the main figure of the triptych is depicted with Christ sitting on the throne. Madonna’s position accentuated the importance of the figure in the triptych. Being depicted in the centre of the panel, Madonna is rounded by two angels portrayed rather symmetrically while standing at the left and right sides in relation to Madonna.

Thus, Madonna is dressed in red clothes, and the symbolic dark blue mantle reflects the clothing typical for a lot of Madonna’s images presented in paintings. Christ is depicted naked, and it seems that his right hand is reaching to the flower in the hand of one angel. The other angel is depicted as reading sacred texts.

The faces of the figures have the extremely oval shape, and they are rather expressionless. These features are discussed as the characteristic of the artist’s style in painting. The composition of the central panel makes the audience think about the placid religious picture.

The donor and Saint Peter are depicted on the left panel of the triptych. The donor is kneeling in prayer and looking at Madonna, and Saint Peter is placing the hand on the donor’s shoulder and is holding the sword in the other hand. The representation of the sword as the certain symbol accentuates the protective role of Saint Peter.

The donor and Saint Peter are dressed in black clothes to present their religious roles. It is possible to see the contours of some religious buildings at the background of the left panel. Thus, the artist uses the elements of the two dimensional technique. On the right panel, Saint Jerome is depicted with a lion. Saint Jerome is holding a book in one hand.

The lion is snuggling to the saint, and it is holding the saint’s other hand. The background is presented in soft and naturalistic green colors. Saint Jerome is dressed in red clothes which reflect Madonna’s clothes in relation to the color and its intensity.

It is possible to note that the artist paid much attention to the colors presented in the triptych. The most vivid colors are characteristic for the dresses of Madonna. Thus, Madonna’s clothing is depicted in deep and intense bold colors. The mantle is dark blue to accentuate Madonna’s integrity. Saint Jerome is also dressed in deep red clothes.

The white clothes are typical for two angels presented on the central panel and for the drapery of Christ. The white color is associated with purity and this symbolic meaning is depicted with the help of the color in the painting. The gold colors are used to depict the throne on which Madonna is sitting.

Thus, all the main colors typical for religious paintings are presented in the triptych4. However, it is important to note that the artist is inclined to utilize the intense bold colors, and different tones are used to emphasize the deepness of the basic color.

The figures and objects depicted in the triptych are rather realistic in their features, but the lack of balance in the figures’ sizes can be observed. Moreover, the figure of Madonna is accentuated, and it is presented in the centre of the main panel providing the centre for the whole symmetrical composition. The painter focuses on the central figure of Madonna making the other figures be turned to Madonna and Christ while looking at them.

The Historical Framework and Relation to the Other Paintings

The Master of the Legend of Saint Lucy is discussed as one of the most significant early Netherlandish painters. As the other painters working during the period, the Master of the Legend of Saint Lucy concentrated in his works on the religious plots and provided the depiction of symbols along with the realistic objects to emphasize the connection of the religion and the real everyday life5.

The subject of the triptych is the representation of Madonna with Christ accentuating their purity, integrity, and their influential religious role with providing them as the central figures of the triptych in comparison with the figures of saints depicted.

The composition with the centralized figure of Madonna was typical for the iconography of the period. Moreover, triptychs were usually used by the early Netherlandish painters to represent the definite religious subjects and plots. The image of Madonna was portrayed in many paintings accompanied with different figures6.

The Master of the Legend of Saint Lucy chose the figures of Saint Peter and Saint Jerome to portray them in the triptych. It is important to pay attention to the symbols depicted along with the figures of saints. These symbols could be easily recognized by the audience basing on the religious legends and stories, and they helped determine the personalities of the saints presented.

Thus, Saint Peter is depicted with the symbolic sword used to protect Christ, and Saint Jerome is depicted with a lion which is snuggling to the saint to demonstrate his obedience because, according to the legend, Saint Jerome helped the lion remove a thorn from the paw. It is important to note that the question of patronage is closely associated with the work by the Master of the Legend of Saint Lucy.

The figures of saints and a donor in the triptych are identified with references to the symbolic objects accompanied these figures7. The tradition to use symbolic objects is characteristic for the early Netherlandish painters.

The idea of the religious triptych with accentuating the central figure is typical for many Netherlandish painters. Referring to the works which were painted earlier than the work by the Master of the Legend of Saint Lucy, it is necessary to pay attention to Hans Memling’s oil triptych made on wood known as Last Judgment (1466-1473).

Many researchers agree that Hans Memling’s works influenced the style of the Master of the Legend of Saint Lucy significantly8. Moreover, the elements of the Spanish painting school are also observed in relation to the artist’s works. It is possible to compare the Master of the Legend of Saint Lucy and Hans Memling’s works because the artists used the similar techniques, the colors are compared in relation to their deepness and usage of tones, the depiction of figures is also similar.

However, it is also possible to discuss the impact of the triptych painted by the Master of the Legend of Saint Lucy on the works of the other painters belonging to the early Netherlandish school of painting. Thus, Gerard David’s The Virgin among the Virgins (1509) in its composition, figure of Madonna, her face expression, figure of Christ, and clothes is similar to Triptych of Madonna and Child with Angels9.

The Master of the Legend of Saint Lucy specialized in painting the religious works, but the discussed triptych took a special position in the artist’s career because it is possible to speak about reflecting the artist’s style and manner of depicting Madonna in the works of the other painters. The triptych is significant because of the subject chosen to depict as the main one and because of the associated elements.

Thus, the work was created under the influence of the social tendencies and reflected the importance of the religious motives and sacred subjects in the people’s life. That is why, the presentation of many symbolic objects at the background of rather real things was characteristic for the early Netherlandish painting as the combination of the secular and sacred worlds.

The work by the Master of the Legend of Saint Lucy reflects the main tendencies in art influenced by the definite historical conditions typical for the period of 1420-1550. The main patron of the arts at the territories was Philip the Good. He supported the works made according to the naturalistic trends and sacred works accentuating with the help of definite symbols.

Moreover, the orientation to both sacred and secular worlds along with the naturalistic details led to the combination of these elements in painting. The patronage of monarchs and their interests in art contributed to the development of the painting school, and the early Netherlandish painters received the opportunity to develop their approaches to presenting the symbolic sacred world along with naturalistic pictures and portraits10.

Much attention was paid to details that is why the early Netherlandish painters are characterized by meticulousness which is also typical for the work painted by the Master of the Legend of Saint Lucy. Thus, the historical conditions in which the triptych was created can be discussed as rather favorable.

Conclusion

The triptych painted by the Master of the Legend of Saint Lucy is the example of the traditional early Netherlandish painting with references to the religious motives and subjects used. The role of the Master of the Legend of Saint Lucy in developing the early Netherlandish painting school is significant because the artist not only followed the set standards but he also contributed to the development of the deeper mergence of the sacred and secular elements in the works of the early Netherlandish painters as it is possible to note with references to the later works painted by Gerard David.

References

Ainsworth, M. (2005). Intentional alterations of early Netherlandish paintings. Metropolitan Museum Journal, 40(10), 51-65.

Gardner, H., & Kleiner, F. (2009). Gardner’s art through the ages: A global history. USA: Cengage Learning.

Hand, J., & Wolff, M. (1986). Early Netherlandish Painting. USA: Cambridge University Press.

Harbison, C. (1984). Realism and Symbolism in early Flemish painting. The Art Bulletin, 66(4), 588-602.

Lane, B. (1988). Sacred versus profane in early Netherlandish painting. Simiolus: Netherlands Quarterly for the History of Art, 18(3), 106-115.

Veen, H. (2005). Early Netherlandish paintings: Rediscovery, reception, and research. Netherlands: Amsterdam University Press.

Footnotes

1 M. Ainsworth, Intentional alterations of early Netherlandish paintings, Metropolitan Museum Journal, 40(10), 2005: 53.

2 C. Harbison, Realism and Symbolism in early Flemish painting, The Art Bulletin, 66(4), 1984: 589.

3 B. Lane, Sacred versus profane in early Netherlandish painting, Simiolus: Netherlands Quarterly for the History of Art, 18(3), 1988: 110.

4 Lane, 1988, 111-112.

5 Harbison, 1984, 590.

6 Lane, 1988, 113.

7 H. Veen, Early Netherlandish paintings: Rediscovery, reception, and research (Netherlands: Amsterdam University Press, 2005), 219-220.

8 Ibid., 223.

9 J. Hand & M. Wolff. Early Netherlandish Painting (USA: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 180-186.

10 H. Gardner & F. Kleiner, Gardner’s art through the ages: A global history (USA: Cengage Learning, 2009), 637.

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IvyPanda. "Early Netherlandish Painting: Triptych of Madonna and Child with Angels; Donor and His Patron Saint Peter Martyr; and Saint Jerome and His Lion by the Master of the Legend of Saint Lucy." December 13, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/early-netherlandish-painting-triptych-of-madonna-and-child-with-angels-donor-and-his-patron-saint-peter-martyr-and-saint-jerome-and-his-lion-by-the-master-of-the-legend-of-saint-lucy-research-paper/.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "Early Netherlandish Painting: Triptych of Madonna and Child with Angels; Donor and His Patron Saint Peter Martyr; and Saint Jerome and His Lion by the Master of the Legend of Saint Lucy." December 13, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/early-netherlandish-painting-triptych-of-madonna-and-child-with-angels-donor-and-his-patron-saint-peter-martyr-and-saint-jerome-and-his-lion-by-the-master-of-the-legend-of-saint-lucy-research-paper/.

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