“Man, Myth and Sensual Pleasures: Jan Gossart’s Renaissance” at The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Jan Gossart, The Deposition (ca. 1525), oil on panel transferred to canvas; courtesy The State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg

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The Metropolitan Museum of Art has gone all out for the Netherlandish painter Jan Gossart (ca. 1478-1532).  A significant chunk of exhibition space and 8-1/2 lbs. of scholarship–the weight, I am told, of the exhibition catalog–have been devoted to the artist whose studies in Rome helped marry (in curator Maryan W. Ainsworth’s phrase) “heightened eroticism” to Northern meticulousness.

Given the evidence at the Met, it’s worth pondering if Gossart’s discovery of sex was entirely beneficial.  Providing the link between Jan Van Eyck and Peter Paul Rubens is no small thing, but stylistic conventions of the time don’t explain (or forgive) Gossart’s anatomical irregularities, stilted compositions or an unappealing sponginess brought to depictions of flesh. By displaying in close proximity works by Van Eyck, Albrecht Durer, Simon Benning and the inestimable Gerard David (with whom Gossart collaborated), the Met underscores the headliner’s artistic shortcomings even as it elaborates on historical context.

Still, Gossart cobbled together some spectacular machines, among them The Deposition (c. 1525), Portrait of a Man (Jan Jacobsz. Snoeck?) (ca. 1530) and the beyond crystalline A Young Princess (Dorothea of Denmark?) (ca. 1530).  If Gossart’s paintings function best as sums of their exquisitely delineated parts, then there are abundant pleasures to be had in cherry picking through them.

© 2010 Mario Naves

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