A Goldsmith in his Shop
A celebrated masterpiece of Northern Renaissance Art, this painting was signed and dated 1449 by Petrus Christus, the leading painter in Bruges (Flanders) after the death of Jan van Eyck. The panel attests to Netherlandish artists’ keen interest in pictorial illusionism and meticulous attention to detail, especially in the luminous jeweled, glass, and metallic objects, secular and ecclesiastic trade wares that are examples of the goldsmith's virtuosity. The main figure in this enigmatic painting was long identified as Saint Eligius (the patron saint of goldsmiths) due to the presence of a halo, which was recognized as a later addition and subsequently removed. The panel is likely a vocational painting, which portrays the profession of goldsmithing and perhaps a specific goldsmith. Technical analysis reveals the underdrawing of the goldsmith's face to be very carefully modeled—more so than the faces of the couple—indicating the possibility of a portrait. It has been suggested that he is Willem van Vleuten, a Bruges goldsmith who worked for Philip the Good, duke of Burgundy. In 1449, the date of this painting, the duke commissioned from van Vlueten a gift for Mary of Guelders on the occasion of her marriage to James II, King of Scots. That couple may well be depicted in this painting, portrayed buying a wedding ring that is being weighed on a scale. The girdle that extends over the ledge of the shop into the viewer’s space is a further allusion to matrimony. The convex mirror, which links the pictorial space to the street outside, reflects two young men with a falcon (a symbol of pride and greed) and establishes a moral comparison between the imperfect world of the viewer and the world of virtue and balance depicted here.
Petrus Christus (Netherlandish, Baarle-Hertog (Baerle-Duc), active by 1444–died 1475/76 Bruges)
The Dutch School painters can be dated as Early Netherlandish (1400–1500), Dutch Renaissance (1500–1584), and, later, Dutch Golden Age painting in the United Provinces. The detailed realism of Early Netherlandish painting, led by Robert Campin and Jan van Eyck in the 1420s and 1430s, is today generally considered to be the beginning of the early Northern Renaissance in painting. This style was greatly respected in Italy, but there was little reciprocal influence on the North until nearly the end of the 15th century. Despite frequent cultural and artistic exchange, the Antwerp Mannerists (1500–1530) were unrelated to Italian Mannerism. Among notable northern painters were highly individualistic artists such as Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Bruegel the Elder who developed styles that were imitated by many subsequent generations. In the 16th century northern painters increasingly traveled to Italy, so the art of Michelangelo and Raphael and the late Renaissance Mannerism had a great impact on their work. Hieronymus Bosch and Geertgen tot Sint Jans are well-known examples of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Dutch painters. In the northern Netherlands, the Reformation brought religious painting almost completely to an end. Portrait painting was slow to spread from the elite to new riches. By the end of the 16th century, artists such as Karel van Mander and Hendrik Goltzius collected in Haarlem in a brief but intense phase of Northern Mannerism that also spread to Flanders. Between 1605 and 1635 over 100,000 paintings were produced in Haarlem. Rembrandt van Rijn, Frans Hals, Johannes Vermeer, Jacob van Ruisdael, and Jan Steen are just a few names form the seventeenth century.