Oil on oak panel
Image size: 6 1/4 x 6 1/4 inches (15.75 x 15.75 cm)
Period ebonised frame (image below)
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Patinir’s poetic imagination allowed him to express an idealised world, or one steeped in pathos, with profound sentiments, and always with perfect technique. The level of detail in this work is astonishing and the viewer is sure to make new discoveries every time that they gaze upon it, such as the birds diving down from the rocky form or the spindly poles that hold up the bowing bridge.
Patinir’s landscapes recall the background landscapes in the work of his contemporary Netherlandish painters, such as Gerard David. His magnificent rendering of light and shadows also foreshadow the great Dutch masters of the 17th century; as well does his excellent use of colour—especially his delightful range of blues and greens. Together, these traits make his works both innovative and uncommonly attractive. Here, although the scene is populated, the figures are small and the landscape assumes increasing importance.
Joachim Patinir, who was born on the banks of the Meuse River, is considered the first Flemish landscape painter. His vast, highly personal landscapes are characterized by large expanses of terrain with high horizons and fantastic outcroppings of pointed rock that combine real and symbolic.
He is thought to have begun his career in Bruges, where he discovered the work of Gérard David, but like David, he appears on a list of Antwerp-based masters in 1515. There, he met and befriended Albrecht Dürer, who visited the Netherlands in 1520-1521. Dürer subsequently painted his portrait and even attended his daughter’s wedding. Patinir was also friends with Quintin Massys, who painted some of the figures in his works. Their friendship was so lasting that Massys’ son, Cornelis, apprenticed with Patinir. Cornelis eventually married Patinir’s daughter, Francisca Buyts, and the elder painter became their tutor.
In 1521, Patinir remarried, this time to Jeanne Nuyts. His life was quite short, and he produced relatively few paintings, notwithstanding certain mediocre works erroneously attributed to him. His fame is due primarily to his final paintings, whose masterful technique and creativity were praised by his peers. In his travelogue, Dürer called him “a good landscape painter”, and Felipe de Guevara, a friend and artistic assessor to both Charles V and Philip II, mentions him in his “Commentaries on Painting” (1540) as one of the three greatest painters, alongside Rogier van der Weyden and Jan van Eyck.
His work was also very successful on the art market, especially when we recall that, in 16th-century Antwerp, artists did not work on commission. Instead, they sold finished works to their clients. From the very start, Patinir’s paintings reflect the influence of Hieronymus Bosch, although they lack that master’s satirical edge. He was also influenced by Gérard David, from whom he drew his perfect execution as well as his taste for landscape. His name appears on two early works—”Saint Jerome” (Staatliche Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe) and “The Flight to Egypt” (Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp)—but his inscriptions on three other panels—”The Baptism of Christ” (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna), “Landscape with Saint Jerome” and “The Temptations of Saint Anthony” (Museo del Prado)—may have been added at a later date.