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Painting & Illumination

 
Eyckian artist Eyckian artist

St John In Ephesus

Origin / Date Valencia, Second half 15th century
Material Tempera and gold leaf on vellum
Dimensions 134 x 87 mm
Availability For sale

Description

Showing St John in Ephesus, between rocky outcrops and against a cloudy sky blessing the poisoned chalice with the serpent crawling out, leaf cropped at edges, various localised paint losses, especially gilding of ivy leaves at bottom border and some green of the grass due to rubbing against glass frame over many decades, oxidizing of lead white in parts of the sky, the figure in excellent condition, verso blank. 

Commentary

“Je suis tout aussi perplexe que vous devant cette admirable
miniature… le visage est parfaitement authentique et intact. L’artiste connaissait visiblementtrès bien les Van Eyck et a assimilé en profondeur leur leçon, tout en restant très personnel: la tête de saint Jean avec ses boucles entortillées en “anglaises”, le cercle orfèvré d’où sort le volume
ovoïde du crâne, tout cela procède des anges musiciens du retable de
Gand (surtout celui de la partie supérieure gauche). Le noble drapé du
manteau réinterprète avec plus de sobriété les amples drapés eyckiens.
Les cyprès, on les trouve même à Gand. Le fin traitement de la main
levée avec le medium et l’index entrecroisés est exactement celui du
saint Jean l’Evangéliste en grisaille de Gand (dont la chevelure,
presque pré-mantegnesque, est toute différente de celle du saint Jean
de la miniature).” Francois Avril, personal communcation.


This highly accomplished miniature by an as yet unidentified artist poses a number of challenges in relation to its localisation and is similar in this respect to the panel painting ‘Portrait of a man’, dated 1456, in the Lichtenstein collection Vaduz. This latter has been ascribed to diverse hands and regions from Portugal to Provence, a strong candidate being Barthelemy d’Eyck (De Loo, 1904 and Thiebaut,1984). Furthermore, like the present miniature, it too betrays an intimate knowledge of the then novel Flemish procedures developed in both Bruges/Ghent (Jan van Eyck) and Tournai (Campin/Van der Weyden). Thirdly, its “southern” traits bring to mind Till Holcher-Borchert’s words: “one wonders whether it is mere coincidence that the earliest recorded provenance of several works crucial to the restitution of van Eyck’s workshop point towards the Iberian penisula and to Italy.” (Catalogue, 2002, p. 25.), and this miniature is another piece in this puzzle which is far from completed. If one were to look North first of all, the likely date and quality point to early Simon Marmion or an artist from the ‘school of Amiens’, not just the particular traits learnt from Rogier van der Weyden (treatment of mouth, eyes, jewels, hair, hands and broad folds of drapery), the entwined fingers (St Bertin altarpiece), but alo the fact that he worked in various places, according to A. de Schrijver, including Ghent; that mss would have been sent to him to illuminate, as Bodo Brinkmann has suggested; and thirdly, more hypothetically, that loose miniatures done by him were sent out to receive borders or be completed elsewhere. There is in the case of our miniature a strong hint that the border was done either by a different hand, or, even more likely, according to Erik Drigsdahl (personal communication), adapted later at the top, - originally left blank but always designed to be a conventional rounded arch, - to the present lobed arch.  What Panofsky called van Eyck’s ‘blond-maned girl angels and girl saints’ whom he though had ‘their ancestresses in ghent Mss and, still earlier, in the “cavalry of tanners” at Bruges’, a type so clearly visible in this miniature, - one which various scholars, moreover, attribute to a panel painter rather than a miniaturist, - are both the key and the problem because there are few instances of wholescale losses   in the history of art greater than that of the work of the 14th century and earlier in Ghent which specialised exactly in this type of angelic figure, and which still survives in English work (stained glass especially) and in Southern painting.

Looking South, there were, broadly speaking, three places where Flemish influence was reinterpreted locally with particular reverence: Valencia, Avignon and Naples. When taking all the stylistic factors together, it is the Valencia of the middle of the 15th century that first springs to mind, as seen for example in one of its best proponents, Juan or Joan Reixach, an artist attached to the court of Alfonso the Magnanimous, both in Valencia and Naples. Thus, many features can be found in one or other of his paintings and there is nothing in the miniature that could not be found in painting of that time. Since most of Valencian painting was an interpretation of Flemish painting which itself leaned heavily on the international style of 1400 already developed in the course of the 14th century in places like Ghent, Paris, Siena and even papal Avignon, many single traits can be found in a variety of later styles, artists and places and attributions are always in need of fresh evidence. Nevertheless, particular accents do betray local preferences.
Thus, in no particular order, we can point to the golden curled hair and oval top of the head (eg, angels in The Crucifixion and Madonna and Child Enthroned with Angels of the Norton Simon museum (fig 1) and Mary in the Altarpiece of the Epiphany, now in Barcelona Museum), the jewelled band (St Sebastian in Xativa, fig. 2), the design of the chalice (see Barcelona above), the delicate punched gold of the halo (Vincent Ferrer in the Meadows Museum, fig. 3, and many other panels), the entwined fingers (Joseph in the Visitation recently sold at Christie’s New York lot 25 Jun 8, 2011 - fig. 4), the grass-topped steep rock, and so on.
Even the unusual seven-lobed arch, which is in some ways reminiscent of miniatures from Savoy, some done for King Rene, could instead be modelled on the integral gilt gesso frames of panel paintings (rather like 14th century French ivories) many of which in Valencia, by Reixach and by the likes of Goncal Peris (eg, El retablo de San Martín, Santa Úrsula y San Antonio Abad, Valencia museum), incorporate these 7-lobed arches. Indeed, this very same feature is also found on some Provencal painting (see, with respect to the “school of Avignon”, the John the Baptist panels illustrated in Reau 1939 as Wildenstein collection).
However, the fact that the painter of the miniature is not only more precise, more refined and more fluid and handles the drapery better than Reixach or any other Valencia painter, but is also well-versed in Flemish technique makes us want to cast our net wider. It is true that the now lost St George of van Eyck was available in Valencia as a source when bought early on by King Alfonso (see the supposed copy by Pere Nisart in Mallorca) and not only was Van Eyck himself an early visitor to Portugal and Spain but a Luis Dalmau was specifically sent north to learn form him.
However, it is well-known now that mobility, and certainly for artists as well as their models and sketches, was far greater in those days than had been previously supposed. In this way we can formulate certain hypotheses that may account for the facts even if they have to remain mere suppositions. For example, if, like Reixach, our artist was not only attached to Alfonso, but actually travelled with him to Naples, he would have seen there another painting of Jan’s, also lost, the so-called Lomellini triptych which included an annunciation scene, that, it has been supposed, finds an echo in the work of another painter in Naples at that time, but one working for the court of King Rene, namely Barthelemy d’Eyck. His Aix annunciation (fig. 5) presents some formal parallels with our St John (the hands of the angel and God the Father, the handling of folds) which could lead one to speculate as to a common source of inspiration. Paintings by van Eyck, and the Tournai school, as well as close associates/followers like Petrus Christus, seem to have been available everywhere. Thus, a painting of Saint Jerome, thought to be by Jan van Eyck, is known to have been in Naples in 1456 and Antonello da Messina had probably seen it. It is therefore, less surprising to find parallels due to common sources in various artists learning from him. For example, the combination of two types of trees seen in our miniature can also be seen in the Eyckian vista glimpsed through the left window of Antonello’s Jerome of 1475 (fig. 6). Similarly, van Eyck’s St Francis, again also in Italy early on, left its mark on the dramatic treatment of rocks and landscape in a lot of Italian painting thereafter.
Even in France, there were sources. The charterhouse in Dijon probably had the Mellon Annunciation (now Washington) just as Beaune had Rogier’s Last Judgment, Aix had a Campin/Rogier enthroned Madonna, the Count of Saluzzo, whose Hours have the characteristic arch tops, owned a tapestry based on Rogier’s work, and Jan’s Thyssen annunciation, whose angel is very close in spirit and form, was found in Haute Savoie in the 1930s (Chateau Bernard).  In fact the upper border with Eyckian parrot is very similar to the bird-strewn border of the Armagnac missal that an Enquerrand Quarton worked on in Provence. The figure style of the miniature is one that the artists attached to King Rene (who is said to personally have instructed Colantonio in Naples in Flemish procedures) were familiar with, judging by angels holding shield in f. 43 of Codice di Santa Marta in Naples, painted in 1439 during Rene’s reign, where we see same smooth top of the head and wide curls, or comparing a similar design in Barthelemy’s miniature of angels holding a shield in Egerton MS 1070.
The fact that the miniature is more redolent of a panel painting and is an inserted miniature without text are arguments in favour of the line of thought that the upper arch of the miniature and its border were added separately, and even perhaps for a book associated with Savoy. Inserted miniatures are generally a Netherlandish rather than a French tradition but it is sometimes found in Savoy (Grenoble Ms 162) or in exceptional Mss (eg, the Boucicaut Hours, including the Quarton miniatures) and also artists working closely in the Eyckian wake. See, for example the artist of the Llangattock hours, whose Mary in the visitation miniature coincidentally shares the nested v-folds. The courts of Amedee VII and IX of Savoy were in any case the ones were artists from all regions seemed to meet (Avril, 1993, p. 203) and whose mss contain heterogeneous miniatures.  There is in fact an example of an artist who proves it was possible for one person to gather together all such disparate influences, one who has only recently been brought into focus by Francois Avril. Antoine de Lonhy first worked in Barcelona and Languedoc, then probably gained first hand contact with the works of van der Weyden and Campin in Burgundy, before ending up in Piedmont/Savoy. Our miniature also shares aspects of his style which can still be said to be ‘international’, the way of doing the eyes for example (see the Nativity panel in Antwerp, Museum Mayer van den Bergh), or, compared with the blessing Christ from a missal now in the Getty Museum, the crossed fingers and very similar chalice (interestingly, this miniature also has an arabesque arch), or the way of doing the tree (Saluces hours f. 213 - Avril and Reynaud 1993, p. 213) and, generally, the monumental approach to drapery folds.  Another avenue to be explored, even if it is merest speculation at this point, is whether it might have come from one of the books commissioned and gathered from everywhere in Europe by that great bibliophile Pope Nicholas V (whose friend cardinal Albergati was painted by Jan van Eyck) and many of which were then sold by his successor Alfonso Borgia, pope Calixtus III (1455 -1458), himself a native of Valencia, to finance a crusade. If a king Alfonso, or his brother John or others in Spain, were buyers that would account for its last destination.  Recent research by Mara Hoffman on a Book of Hours demonstrably made in Valencia, however, would seem to provide enough evidence to conclude in favour of “Valencia” (taken as the centre of a style rather than just a place), since one of the miniatures in this book (The Hours of Dona Violante, Use of Rome, in Latin and Catalan [Spain (Valencia) and southern Netherlands (Bruges)], c.1480; Sotheby’s 7/7/2015, lot 80), namely, that of the Virgin and Child (f.91v), incidentally also described as the most ‘polished’, is close to the point of identity. Dr Hoffman has suggested that, based on it closeness to the crucifixion miniature in a missal in Toledo (Cathedral Archive, Res.1) made for Alfonso Carrillo, Archbishop of Toledo from 1446 to 1482, as well as the work in a Missal in Valencia (Cathedral Archive, Cod. 97) dated 1479, [for both manuscripts, see L. Bosch, Art, Liturgy, and Legend in Renaissance Toledo, 2000, pp.130-34], both of which are documented as the work of he Valencian painter PEDRO JUAN BALLESTER, the present miniature is likely an unpublished work of this artist.
 
Notes
1. This hypothesis allows for the possibility that the miniature was painted in the North and the border adapted in the South, probably for a royal patron. Given the connections of both Van Eyck and Marmion with Portugal, the former having visited and the latter knowing Vasco de Lucena, the chancellor of the King of Portugal who worked as translator for Isabella, this admittedly attractive idea cannot be dismissed as wishful thinking. Isabella of Portugal, as wife of Philippe le Bon, not only entered Ghent in procession in 1430 but we know that her brother’s book, the hours of Dom Duarte was done in Ghent (gold scrolls group)and that Philippe commissioned a breviary from Simon in 1467 which was interrupted by the King’s death that same year.
2. One of the last surviving ones, the mural paintings of the end of the14th century in the oratoire des Carmelites chaussees, was whitewashed in 1887, described thus by Edmond de Busscher:
” au milieu, devant un berceau de verdures fleuries se detache un ange aux grandes ailes deployees, a la physionomie semi-feminine et aux cheveux boucles. Son costume de diacre tout brode d’or est retenu sur ses epaules par une riche agrafe ou broche”.

Select Literature

Borchert, Till-Holger; Manfred Sellink (2002). The Age of Van Eyck. The Mediterranean World and Early Netherlandish Painting 1430-1530. London: Thames & Hudson.
C.R. Post, A History of Spanish Painting, Cambridge, Massachusetts, VI, I, pp. 71-3
Avril and Reynaud, Les manuscrits a peintures en France, 1440- 1520. 1993
Reau, Louis La peinture francaise du xiv au xvi siecle, Paris, 1939.
Edmund de Buscherre, Recherches sur les peintres et sculpteurs à Gand, Ghent, 1865.
Mallorca, Fundación Bartolomé March, MS 103-V1-3; see Un libro de horas de la casa de Dos Aguas, facsimile and commentary, 1993.

Provenance

Spanish collection

Literature

Borchert, Till-Holger; Manfred Sellink (2002). The Age of Van Eyck. The
Mediterranean World and Early Netherlandish Painting 1430-1530.
London: Thames & Hudson.

C.R. Post, A History of Spanish Painting, Cambridge,
Massachusetts, VI, I, pp. 71-3
Avril and Reynaud, Les manuscrits a peintures en France, 1440-
1520. 1993.
Reau, Louis, La Peinture Francaise du XIVe au XVIe Siecle, Paris 1939, illus. 14.
Edmund de Buscherre, Recherches sur les peintres et sculpteurs à Gand, Ghent, 1865.
Charles Jacques, La peinture Francaise, Les peintres du Moyen Age, 1941.

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Copyright Marc du Ry November 2011

A PDF version of this entry with figures is available on request.

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