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Sunday, April 19, 2015

Joachim Patinir

Landscape with the Flight into Egypt, 1525, Joachim Patinir                                
One of the major differences in art now as opposed to then is the fact that we tend to keep better records than they did back five or six-hundred years ago. During the Medieval period, few artists even signed their paintings (especially religious works) much less bothering to record when they were painted. Sculptors were even less likely to do so. Michelangelo, when he signed his famous Vatican Pieta, only did so in a fit of pique when someone claimed to doubt his skill as a sculptor. Today, we not only have fairly complete records of who, but usually when, and often how, why, perhaps even video of the work in progress. Before, during, and for a century or so after the Renaissance, a painting master not only taught apprentices, but in so doing ran a virtual art factory in which any number of hands might literally have a "hand" in a given masterpiece. That was not such a problem in Italy where, for some reason, more meticulous records were kept of such things than in the North.
Crucifixion, after 1500,  (attributed to) Joachim Patinir

Portrait of Joachim Patinir,
1520, Albrecht Durer
Landscape with the Flight into Egypt (top), from 1525, by the Netherlandish painter, Joachim Patinir, illustrates my point. It is both typical of his work as well as reasonably well documented. Now, compare it to the Crucifixion (above) which is likely from about the same time...well, the same century at least. It has long been attributed to Patinir. See the resemblance? If not, you'll see why this kind of thing drives art historians and authenticators crazy. It would help if there was some other likely artist who may have painted it, but there's not. Yet, Patinir was primarily a landscape painter, albeit one with a vivid imagination. But, even a cursory glance at Crucifixion immediately raises the question, where's the landscape? In virtually all of Patinir's work, the figures are heavily sublimated to the landscape, His Landscape with the Flight into Egypt (top), is disturbingly so. Though the mother and child is smack in the (lower) middle of the composition, you still find yourself hunting for them at first. Obviously, that's not the case in this Crucifixion. Moreover, Patinir seldom painted figures in the foreground. It would be all too easy to simply chalk this up as being a "factory" piece, mostly turned out by Patinir's workshop, except for the subject matter. A crucifixion would have been a major commission, likely by a church, and (given its shape), probably an altarpiece--not the kind of job you'd pass around to apprentices.

The Rest on The Flight into Egypt, 1515-20, Joachim Patinir.
(Is Jesus about to get his bare butt smacked?)
The Rest on the Flight into Egypt (above) from about 1515-20, is one of several dealing with the subject, each of which indicates Patinir was never within a thousand miles of Egypt (I've been there, I know). However it does give us a better sense of Patinir's handling of figures and drapery, which is not too unlike that seen in in the questionable Crucifixion. And, his handling of both seem distinctly his own, resembling that of no other likely artist of his time.

Landscape with the Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, ca. 1520, Joachim Patinir
Triptych, 1520, Joachim Patinir
Speaking of "his time," even that's a little problematical, sources giving both the years 1480 and 1485 for his birth. As a relatively well-known Dutch artist, his death in 1524 is a little more certain, though even that would tend to indicate either his death or his Landscape with the Flight into Egypt (top) could use a little more research. However that's not uncommon when you see an artist's biography begin with the words, "Little is known of the artist's early life." Questions of accuracy also arise when you see a great number of an artist's works assigned to a single year. In this case, 1520 must have been a real rat-race for Patinir. Besides his major conflagration depicted in his Landscape with the Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (above) from that year, he also painted another of his favorite subjects, St. Jerome in the Desert (below) in 1520, as well as the triptych altarpiece (above, right).
St. Jerome in the Desert, ca. 1520, Joachim Patinir
Saint Christopher Bearing the
Christ Child, Jaochim Patinir
It's hard to say when you see several different versions by the same artist of the same subject, whether it indicates an infatuation or simply a reflection of what the art patrons of the time wished to purchase. Inasmuch as Catholics today still find it comforting to mount St. Christopher on the dashboard of their cars, it's likely the latter was the case as Patinir painted several different versions of St. Christopher Bearing the Christ Child (left). There's also one or more horizontal versions with the same title (below). That's another thing which drives art historians crazy. The least Patinir could have done would have been to number them, or maybe keep track of which year they were painted. Both the tale and the painting are the stuff of legends. The old man with the cup on shore is a hermit who talked Christopher into serving God by helping people (and eventually the boy Jesus) across a dangerous stream. It looks as if the old guy may have earned his venerated place on Catholic dashboards.
St Christopher Bearing the Christ Child, Joachim Patinir

Charon Ferrying a Soul Across
to the Netherworld (detail),
after 1500, Joachim Patinir

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