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Friday, July 11, 2014

Jean Hey

The Moulins Triptych, 1498, Jean Hey
During the Medieval period in art it was not uncommon for artists to leave their work unsigned, especially in painting and sculpting religious items. In fact, it was more common than not. Art historians hate that. They hate uncertainties. It forces them to make up awkward, lengthy phrases such as "Master of the Moulins." Art researchers, though, love it. It gives them something to do. It validates their existence. It lets them play detective. It let's them play guessing games, or even claim such an artist never actually existed, that the body of work attributed to this "master" was actually that of any number of other painters.
Christ with  Crown of Thorns, ca. 1494, Jean Hey--the key to the mystery.
So it was with the Netherlandish painter, John Hey, until a chance discovery around 1995 when restoration experts found on the back of a damage painting titled, Christ with Crown of Thorns (above), dating from 1494, the words: "Jean Hey, teutonicus and pictor egregius" (the famous German painter) with additional text identifying his patron as Jean Cueillette, secretary to the king, also associated with the Bourbon family. The painting had previously been attributed to the nebulous "Master of the Moulins." From that point, it was merely a matter of doing some detective work comparing the stylistic similarities of the dozen or so other paintings also bearing the same attribution. Mystery solved! Art historians relieved. Art researchers triumph again!
The Nativity, ca. 1490, Jean Hey
Not so fast. Simply populating an artists' catalogue raisonné does not create a curriculum vitae. For those who never studied Latin, or who flunked the course, the "catalogue raisonne" is a complete, annotated listing of all work done by a given artist. If the artist is quite famous, inclusion of a work on such a listing can mean the difference between a painting worth a few hundred dollars and a few million. The curriculum vitae is simply an artist's resume, or if deceased, a sort of abridged version of his or her biography. That, too, can elevate the value of an artist's work, just not as drastically. In the case of Jean Hey, his curriculum vitae is almost totally based upon circumstantial evidence--the expert testimony experts.
Meeting at the Golden Gate, ca. 1488, John Hey (the date is highly questionable).
Margaret of Austria, 1490, Jean Hey
Jean Hey is said to have been born around 1475 and probably died around 1505. That is, they're sure he died, just not so sure exactly when. That's a lifetime of a mere thirty years, at least half of which would have been spent learning to paint. His earliest work seems to have been Meeting at the Golden Gate (above), from around 1488, which means he would have been "around" thirteen years old. It's a pretty decent painting for that era, bearing a number of Medieval traits, but likely not the work of a thirteen-year-old, assuming that the birth date and the completion date both have some degree of accuracy. In this case, that's not a very safe assumption. His Portrait of Margaret of Austria (left) is dated at around 1490, which would make the artist fifteen; and, I suppose, not totally outside the realm of possibility for a child prodigy (which may have been the case).
Francis de Chateaubriand presented by Saint Maurice, ca. 1500, Jean Hey.
The Master of the Moulins' most famous work is the Moulins Triptych (top) from 1498 (notice the absence of the word "around"). It's the piece which gave Jean Hey his previous "nome de plume" (Latin for pen name). Hey appears to have been the court painter for the French Bourbon Kings, which would have placed him in Paris for the final years  his life. Only the given name of this court painter was known. Though Jean was a quite common French name (French for John, and pronounced that way), by process of stylistic elimination, Hey seemed the most likely candidate for that position. His portraits from around 1500, such as Francis de Chateaubriand presented by Saint Maurice (above), would also seem to validate this line in his curriculum vitae. Likewise, his The Dauphin Charles-Orlant (bottom), thought to be from around the same time, supports this designation. Comparing it to his first known work, Meeting at the Golden Gate (regardless of its exact date), would seem to illustrate that, despite his rather short lifespan, he was something of a fast learner.

The Dauphin Charles-Orlant , ca 1480-1500, Jean Hey--absolutely endearing.


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