The Many-named Jan Gossart

November 27, 2010

The Metropolitan has a marvelous exhibit of the works of Jan Gossart (he is known by a variety of names) that I visited today.  A northerner, in the pictorial tradition of van Eyck and other pioneering artists in oil, he, like Albrecht Durer, went south, and was enthralled by the ruins of the classical world and the Humanist revival in Italy.  He fuses this taste with his northern gothic tradition and produces something that is at times downright weird, but compelling.  The exhibit was unusual, I thought, in its emphasis on the sources in contemporary art of the north for many of his works.  Gossart was on the cutting edge; one of a group of humanist-scholar-artist afficianados who found deep-pocketed patrons to finance their new vision. 

As always, click on the images to enlarge them.

The image at the top was one of my favorites – a disguised portrait of a young girl as Mary Magdalen, so simple, plain, and lovely compared to the other Magdalen below.

His debt to Durer’s popular engraving is clear and direct, but he drops some of the classicizing of the print’s image.


Here, he cuts loose a bit and depicts Adam and Eve as actual human beings, rather “than Biblical Figures”, who are obviously quite attracted to one another.

The Virgin Mary, and Mary Magdalen:  The first is calm, contemplative, and shows that strange marble-like texture found in so many of his portraits.  He seems to enjoy painting people as though they were sculpture, sometimes to a degree that it appears trompe l’oeil.  The second is strange, twisted, writhing, and definitely tipping in the direction of mannerism.


Hercules and wife, classical architecture, bodies – see, her breasts are perfect hemispheres – and a weird, erotic entangling of legs.  The picture on the right makes use of blue pigment created from lapis lazuli that was as expensive as gold.


A bit of weirdly erotic classicizing…

A portrait of a man who was in charge of municipal toll collections, an important and lucrative post.  From his look, he seems right for the job.  If you look very closely at his eyes, at the white highlight on the iris reflecting the incoming light, you can see the image of the mullions of the window from which this scene is illuminated.

Being Concrete

April 12, 2008

Auguste PerretI was familiar with the architectural master, Auguste Perret, through my studies in the history of architecture, but I did not have anything like a proper appreciation of him until I read this new book about him. I recalled him as being praised as a pre-cursor of modernism, and the first to exploit reinforced concrete fully as an aesthetic and structural material. Looking through two histories I have on hand, Pioneers of Modern Design by Hitchcock, and A History of Architecture by Kostoff, I see that he is allotted a few paragraphs, there are pictures of his most famous building (church at Raincy) and then on to the triumphs of the modern movement, particularly Le Corbusier, who studied under Perret, revered him, but also criticized him. It seems that there are few books about him in English, which is why this new Phaidon text is so welcome.

In fact, the criticism went both ways because Perret was not a “modernist,” he was a classicist, and a builder in a very traditional sense. He was a craftsman in concrete, and his buildings are exquisite – I would love to live in one of them. (Perhaps being an engineer, I am closer to his mentality?) He was not at all entranced by Corbu and Mies, and those people – that wasn’t architecture in his eyes. Phillip Johnson relates an annecdote about taking Perret to see his very famous Glass House in Connecticut (…just a chimney over which I draped a thin skin of glass and steel frame…) Shheeesh! Not architecture for Perret! PJ asked if Perret would like to go inside and look around. He replied, “What for? I can see everything from out here?” He was similarly abrupt and caustic about other “modernist masterpieces.” Here was a man who knew what he was about!

Looking through the book I was floored by the sheer beauty of his interiors and facades. I had expected to see intriguing and pleasing designs that were “rational” and “modern,” but his are ravishing, i.e., they are detailed, and lovingly designed – ornament is carefully used to great effect, and the entire impression is one of austere, disciplined, voluptuousness – emphasis on the austere. The tension between the sensual beauty and the intellectual purity of the designs – the spiral stairway shown below is a good example – is a marvel. It reminds me of my favorite authors, Flaubert and Calvino, and their Olympian mastery of tone.

Raincy Rue Franklin Apartments Public Works Museum Theatre Champs Elysees Public Works Museum