Scenes from the Life of Saint Augustine of Hippo
This painting was the central panel of a triptych dedicated to Saint Augustine (354–430), a Christian theologian so celebrated that he is sometimes called a Doctor of the Church. The composition is divided into five scenes: in the center, Saint Augustine is consecrated bishop of Hippo Regius, a Roman city in present-day Algeria; in the upper left, Saint Augustine is ordained as a priest; in the lower left, Saint Augustine preaches while his mother, Monica, anachronistically says the rosary, a prayer regimen of the late Middle Ages. At the upper right, Saint Augustine converses with a boy who says that filling a hole in the sand with the sea is no more difficult than explaining the Trinity; and in the lower right, Saint Augustine preaches. In the windows behind the altar at the right are kneeling figures of a man and woman, along with coats of arms. Might these be clues to the original place for which the altarpiece was created, or are they pure inventions? Of particular interest in this panel are the detailed and richly depicted varieties of ecclesiastical vestments and altar implements, many examples of which are similar to works displayed in the Cloisters’ Treasury.
Master of Saint Augustine (Netherlandish, ca. 1490)
Made in Bruges, Flanders, South Netherlands
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.