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Friday, January 22, 2016

Bernard van Orley

The Destruction of the House of Job, 1521, Bernard van Orley
Even those artists today who still paint religious subjects, have probably never painted a triptych altarpiece. Even during the two or three centuries before and after the Renaissance, when they were most in demand, the Catholic Church was the main driving force in their creation. No so much today. I could find only two or three that were painted during the past hundred years. One of them was my own, titled The Death, Burial, and Resurrection (below) painted more than fifteen years ago. 
Copyright, Jim Lane
The Death, Burial and Resurrection, Jim Lane
Some, such as the Ghent Altarpiece by the van Eyck brothers are world famous. The same is true of the Merode and the Isenheim altarpieces. If they were for sale (which they most assuredly are not) would each be worth multiple millions of dollars. Mine, I'd sell for a few thousand, which is probably why I'll never sell it. It does not sit on or behind a church altar but rests in storage, having not even been displayed now for more than ten years. Take it from me, there's not much of a market for triptych altarpieces anymore. However, back around the time of the Renaissance that wasn't the case. Today, just about every major Catholic church in Europe has one, which means there's hundreds of them by almost that many artists. One of the most prolific such artists was the Flemish painter, Bernard van Orley.

Portrait of Bernard Van Orley by Albrecht Durer, (above, left), or maybe the portrait is of a wealthy Brussels businessman named Bernhart von Reesen. In any case, the memorial statue of van Orley in Brussels seems modeled after Durer's image.
Along with one or two others, Bernard van Orley is regarded as among the leading innovators of 16th-century Flemish painting. He adopted the style and manner of the Italian Renaissance, especially that of Raphael. His paintings are executed with great care to minute details and stand apart for their brilliant colors. Orley's The Destruction of the House of Job (top), from the 1521 altarpiece, The Virtues of Patience Is an excellent example of his use of color. When Albrecht Dürer visited the Netherlands in 1520 for the coronation of the new emperor, Charles V, he called van Orley "the Raphael of the Netherlands". Dürer, stayed as a guest in van Orley's home for a week during which time he also painted a portrait some scholars identify as van Orley (above, left). In any case, Dürer had a profound influence on van Orley. In later works he tried to find a synthesis between the German Dürer and the Italian Renaissance master also greatly admired, Raphael.

Diptych Altarpiece of Sts. Thomas and Matthias, 1512, Bernard van Orley
Bernard van Orley was born around 1491, but possibly as early as 1487 (birth records back then weren't what they are now). He was born in Brussels to a family with a long lineage of successful artist, one which van Orley made even longer in that four of his nine children (that is to say, all the boys) became artists. His father and brother were also painters. Although van Orley studied in Rome, possibly under Raphael himself, it's far more likely he learned his trade from his father first in that there were very few painters of any importance in Brussels at the time. Van Orley's earliest signed work is a diptych altarpiece (two panels) titled variously The Apostles' Altar or The Altarpiece of Sts. Thomas and Matthias (above), which dates from 1512.

The Last Judgment, 1525, Bernard van Orley
The triptych The Last Judgment (above) is considered one of van Orley's best. It was commissioned by the almoners of the Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp around 1525. It is notable for its originality and mastery of painting technique. On the back is a painting in grisaille (monochromatic black, white, and grays) by Peter de Kempeneer, who was an apprentice in the van Orley's workshop at the time. Another altarpiece, probably from around the same time, is the Haneton Triptych (below) which combines a non-traditional pieta with portraits of local donors. The center of the triptych offers Christ's entombment, the Virgin Mary, St John, Mary Magdalene, and the two others a few moments before Christ's burial. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus appear in the rear, linked to the group by the crown of thorns so as to remind viewers that it was they who took Christ down from the cross.

Haneton Triptych. ca. 1520, Bernard van Orley
The Altarpiece of Calvary (below) in Bruges, dates from 1534. It was commissioned by Margaret of Austria originally for a funeral monument in the church of Brou in Bourg-en-Bresse in Burgundy. The side panels were done much later by Marcus Gerards the Elder. The central part represents Calvary, the left panel the Crown of Thorns, The Scourging of Christ, and Christ carrying the Cross. The right panel depicts The Pietà and The Limbo of the Just.

Only the central panel was painted by van Orley.
During the latter years of his life, from about 1526 to 1531, Bernard van Orley became involved in designing tapestries such as The Battle of Pavia series (below), one of a set of seven. The seven small cartoons are owned by the Louvre. In these tapestries, Bernard van Orley created with historical authenticity and great detailed on a grand scale, using life-size figures within his imagined surroundings. Near the end of his life van Orley began designing stained-glass windows. The windows in the north transept of the St. Michael and Gudula Cathedral in Brussels depict members of the House of Habsburg (Charles V and his wife Isabella of Portugal), Charlemagne and Elisabeth of Hungary, along with scenes from the Legend of the Miraculous Host.

The Battle of Pavia (tapestry), 1526-31, Bernard van Orley
A highly flattering Portrait of Charles V,
1516, Bernard van Orley, or more
likely his workshop, this being one
of seven copies.
From 1515 on, van Orley and his workshop received many orders for portraits, including those from the royal family and from people connected to the court. In 1516 he painted seven portraits of Charles V, who had just become King of Spain, as well as portraits of his brother Ferdinand, later the King of Hungary, and his four sisters (destined for the King of Denmark). Finding more demand for his work that he could supply, Van Orley started his own workshop, becoming one of the first entrepreneurial artists in Northern Europe. Along with his workshop, van Orley produced dozens of portraits while becoming a leading designer of tapestry cartoons and stained glass windows. In 1527, when van Orley, his family, and several other artists, fell into disgrace because of their Protestant sympathies, the family fled Brussels and settled in Antwerp. With the coming of a new Regent of the Netherlands, Maria of Austria, five years later, Bernard van Orley returned to Brussels where he died in 1541.

Charles V at the Age of Ten, Bernard van Orley.
The Hapsburgs were a highly-inbred,
bug-ugly clan of monarchs.


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