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Sunday, May 7, 2017

Juan de Flandes

Christ Appearing to His Mother, 1496, Juan de Flandes,
probably the first panel painted for the Isabella I altarpiece.
The artist was attempting to hide his Flemish style in favor
of a more "Spanish" look favored by the court.
It almost never happens today, that an artist spends all, or most, of his or her career working for one or two, or at most, only a handful of clients. Today, most artists work on speculation. That is, they paint what they think will sell, exhibit the work as widely as possible, hoping for the best. Or, they paint what they like and hope someone else will like it too, and most of all, like it well enough to buy it. Only in the case of portraits are artists "hired" in advance to create one or two individual paintings. Like everything else, marketing ones services as an artist has changed radically in the past five-hundred years. The Flemish painter (that is, one from the Belgian area), Juan de Flandes, is a prime example. During his entire (albeit, short) career he had only two, or at most three, clients (apart from a small number of portrait commissions).
The Marriage Feast at Cana, 1500-1504, Juan de Flandes,
Another or the forty-six original panels of Isabella's private
altarpiece (now broken up and residing in museums around the world).

Queen Isabella I of Castile,
Juan de Flandes
Juan de Flandes was not, of course, his real name. In fact, we don't know his actual name. About all we know about his early years is that (given his name) he probably was born in Flanders. We know he was born around 1460, give or take perhaps as much as a decade. Based solely on his early works, we can speculate with some degree of accuracy that he was trained in Ghent (south-western Belgium). The first documented evidence of his existence came in 1496 when became an artist at the court of Queen Isabella I of Castile (right), for whom he worked as a court painter until her death in 1504. That means he painted mostly portraits of the royal family such as that of his chin-deprived patroness (right).

Saints Michael and Francis, 1505-09, Juan de Flandes.
The transformation of Juan's style from Flemish to Spanish
is seen here as complete.
For most of the 15th and much of the 16th-centuries, artists had only two sources of income, churches and the nobility. Working for a monarch as a court painter was about as far up the social ladder an artist could hope to climb. When the queen died, Juan turned to decorating the various Spanish churches springing up almost daily across the land. Although frescoes were in demand for large-scale expanses, the real money and prestige came from rendering altarpieces. Juan de Flanders painted three that we know of, a small one for the Isabella's personal devotions, and two much larger polyptych (having many panels) altarpieces first for a church in Salamanca in 1505–07. A second one he painted in Palencia (below) sometime after that and before 1519 when his wife was referred to as a widow. In that we're talking about three similar works, it's possible not all the panels displayed below came from the Palencia Church altarpiece.

Panels (mostly) from the Palencia Church altarpiece. The top-right panel, The Sermon of St. John the Baptist, in that it has a single date during Isabella's lifetime may have been from her altarpiece. The same may be true of Supper in the House of Simon the Pharisee, which would seem to be dated too early for the Palencia Altarpiece.
Two other panels depicting scenes from the life of Christ are probably from the Queen Isabella I altarpiece, though sources are unclear in their regard. Salome with the head of John the Baptist, c. (below, left,) from 1496, assuming the date is accurate, is the more likely of the two. The Resurrection of Lazarus (below, right), from around 1500, is somewhat less so. The differences in size and shape causes me to doubt that they were both from the same altarpiece.

Salome with the head
John the Baptist, c. 1496,
Juan de Flandes
Resurrection of Lazarus,
c. 1500, Juan de Flandes


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