Jan Gossaert's Renaissance at The National Gallery

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The Independent Culture

Jan Gossaert is hardly a household name. However, the Old Master, known in his early 16th Century heyday as Jan Mabuse, is widely credited with changing the course of Flemish art, taking the tradition of Jan van Eyck and melding it with Italianate techniques.

That he has been rather overlooked by modern scholars is something The National Gallery is seeking to rectify, and one of the many reasons it is staging the biggest solo exhibition of Gossaert’s work in nearly half a century. Consequently Jan Gossaert’s Renaissance, which opens tomorrow, is a feast of more than 80 works, and includes some of his most important paintings.

Thought to have been the first Northern European artist to make the journey to Rome to copy antique sculpture in 1509, his subsequent paintings are filled with voluptuous nudes depicted in religious and mythological tales in the gothic tradition.

One of the first works completed after his return from Rome, the ‘Adoration of the Kings’ (1510-15), is a sumptuous rendition of the Magi at Christ’s birth. The Virgin and babe are depicted amid the cracked tiles of a destroyed, yet architecturally ornate, outhouse with presiding angels and hounds at their feet. One of the visiting kings, Balthazar, is one of the earliest known depictions of a black man in western art.

Original sin rears its head in much of Gossaert’s work and the exhibition includes an early Durer-influenced ‘Adam and Eve’ (circa 1510), for direct comparison with another painting of the same name which he painted in 1520.

Other highlights include the triptych ‘Agony in the Garden of Getheseman’, the individual panels of which have been reunited for the first since it was completed in 1510; ‘An Elderly Couple,’ a stunning portrait of old age; and Venus (circa 1521), a porcelain nude in the classical style.

Works by his contemporaries Durer, Jacopo de’Barbari and Lucas van Leyden are exhibited alongside the collection to provide background to Gossaert’s artistic milieu.

'Jan Gossaert’s Renaissance' is at The National Gallery from tomorrow until 30 May 2011