Two iconographic themes are combined in this splendid painting: the joys of motherhood and the sorrowful premonition of Christ's death. The sleeping infant is traditionally understood as a prefiguration of the dead Christ embraced by the Virgin, known as the Pietà. Contemplating her devotional reading, Mary points to her prayer book, in which two pages are legible. Taken from the Magnificat (Luke 1:54–55), celebrating the Annunciation, and the De Profundis (Psalm 130:1–2), used in the Mass for the dead, the verses foreshadow the Virgin’s rejoicing in the fulfillment of Christ’s destiny and her suffering at her son’s death.
Although early on attributed to Albrecht Durer and to Jan Gossart, Firmenich-Richartz (1909) was the first to recognize this painting as the work of the artist we now know to be Joos van Cleve, the great Antwerp painter of the early sixteenth century. The picture dates from Joos’s mature phase, around 1525 (Ainsworth 1998 and Hand 2004).
This is one of Joos’s most elaborate compositions of the Virgin and Child, and its details signal the themes of the joys and sorrows experienced by the Virgin and commemorated in the rosary. The Virgin sits on a parapet before a vast landscape, holding the sleeping Christ Child, which has been interpreted as a premonition of his death and the Lamentation. Episodes from the early life of Christ are depicted in tiny details throughout the landscape: the Miracle of the Wheatfield (Matthew 13:25) and the Massacre of the Innocents (Matthew 2:16-18) at the left, and the Holy Family on its Flight into Egypt on the right. Further symbolic references to Christ’s Incarnation are in the foreground: the Child holds an apple as the new Adam and redeemer of man’s sin, and he wears a necklace of coral, an apotropaic device to ward off evil. The Virgin points to the open devotional book on her lap where the texts of two folios are legible. One shows the last two lines of the Magnificat, from the Gospel of Saint Luke (I:54-55), the Marian hymn relating the joy of the Virgin at her meeting with her cousin Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist. The second shows the opening lines of the De Profundis, used in the Mass for the dead: "Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O Lord" (Psalm 130:1–2). These texts foreshadow the Virgin’s rejoicing in the fulfillment of Christ’s destiny and her suffering at her son’s death. The two texts are divided by an illumination which shows Saints Paul and Peter, the founders of the Church. The still life on the balustrade contains elements conveying symbolic meaning related to Christ’s Passion and the roles played by the Virgin and her son. The beaker of wine and the bunch of grapes clearly refer to the Eucharist, while the halved walnut may refer to the Passion, due to its bitter flavor, or its shell may refer to the wood of the cross.
Comparison with Joos’s Holy Family from about 1512–13 (MMA 32.100.57) reveals the stylistic changes in Joos’s work that occurred between the early years of his career as a free master in the Antwerp painters’ guild, and his more mature work of the 1520s. The depiction of the Virgin in each painting is similar, as is the balustrade with its still life. However, the earlier work shows the inspiration of Jan van Eyck’s works, while this panel reveals Joos’s full-fledged abilities, which are more inspired by Italian painting (Ainsworth 1998). The figures are shown in front of a rolling landscape with dramatic rock formations and exquisite villages that relies heavily on the landscapes of Joachim Patinir, which were very popular in the mid-1520s. This landscape also includes a port that may recall that of Genoa, where much of Joos’s work traveled during this period of his career. There is a distinct separation between the background and the figures of the Virgin and Child in the immediate foreground. The background was probably painted by a collaborator who specialized in landscapes in the style of Patinir. Joos van Cleve’s The Crucifixion with Saints and a Donor (MMA 41.190.20a–c) is another example of his working with a collaborator who painted the landscape. The background in the Virgin and Child shows no apparent underdrawing, and is painted more loosely than the Virgin and Child, which are underdrawn in Joos’s characteristic style. A reserve area was left for the figures, indicating that the landscape was painted first. This collaboration between Joos and a landscape specialist is characteristic of the division of labor that became more common in the sixteenth century.
This panel is one of at least three variations of the composition. The other two are in private collections (one in Spain, and the other sold at Sotheby’s, London, July 19, 1980, no. 43). These other paintings show the Virgin and Child before a cloth of honor with only a partial view into a landscape, and the still life in these variations is presented on a tablecloth on the balustrade. Elisa Bermejo Martinez (1991) identifies the monogram of a lowercase d and uppercase B on the plate in the still life shown in the version in the Spanish collection as the initials of Joos van Cleve’s pseudonym: van der Beke. She claims that this panel is, therefore, the artist’s only monogrammed work. Maryan Ainsworth (1998) maintains that the lack of quality of this version suggests instead that the initials indicate Joos as the master of the workshop which produced it.
[Maryan W. Ainsworth 2012]
Inscription: Inscribed (on prayer book pages): . . . / recordatus misericordiae suae / Sicut loctus·est ad / patres nostras Abra / ham et=semini eius i[n] / saecula Gloria patri et / filio et spir[ito] / sancto S[icut erat in] / principi[o et nunc et semper] / et in saecu[la saeculorum] / De profundis clamavi / [ad te] domine : domine ex / [audi v]ocem : meam / [Fiant aures tua]e intenden / [tes in vocem depreca]tiones / [meae.] / . . . misericoria et co / [piosa] ( . . . in remembrance of his mercy; As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever. Glory to the father and to the son and to the holy spirit, [as it was in the] beginning, [is now, and shall be for ever.] Out of the depths have I cried [unto thee,] O Lord. Lord, [hear] my voice: [let thine ears] be attentive [to the voice of my] supplications [Luke 1:54-55, the Gloria patri, and Psalms 130:1-2 and possibly 7].)
Louis Apollinaire Sicard, Lyons (in about 1848; sold to Dupré); [?Georges] Dupré, Lyons (before d. 1853; sold to Gilibert); Dr. Stanislas Gilibert, Lyons (by 1853–d. 1870; his estate sale, Odier, Lyons, March 11ff., 1872, no. 90, as "École de Dürer," for Fr 2,500 to Calamard); Monsieur Calamard, Lyons (from 1872; sold to Spiridon); [Louis Spiridon, Rome and Paris, until 1877/78; sold for Fr 25,000 to Odiot]; Ernest Odiot, Paris (1877/78–1889; his sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, April 26–27, 1889, no. 6, as by Mabuse [Gossart] for Fr 37,000 to Miranda); Mme Angèle de Miranda, Paris (1889–at least 1925); Edward J. Berwind, The Elms, Newport, R.I. (until d. 1936); his sister, Julia A. Berwind, The Elms (1936–d. 1961; her estate sale, Parke-Bernet, New York, June 27–28, 1962, no. 222, for $40,000 to Frederick P. Victoria for Linsky); Mr. and Mrs. Jack Linsky, New York (1962–his d.1980); The Jack and Belle Linsky Foundation, New York (1980–82)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "From Van Eyck to Bruegel: Early Netherlandish Painting in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," September 22, 1998–February 21, 1999, no. 96.
Collection Dr. Stanislas Gilibert. Ch. Gachod, Lyons. March 11, 1872, p. 41, no. 90, attribute it to the School of Dürer.
Raoul de Cazenove. Les tableaux d'Albert Dürer au Musée de Lyon. Lyons, 1883, pp. 28–30, rejects the attribution to the School of Albrecht Dürer and proposes Jan Gossart as the artist; provides extensive provenance.
Alfred Darcel. "La collection de M. Ernest Odiot." Gazette des beaux-arts, 3rd ser., 1 (1889), pp. 253, 257–58, ill. (reproductive engraving by Ch. Kreutzberger), doubts the attribution to Jan Gossart, observing that it is not by Bernaert Van Orley either, suggests one look among their contemporaries.
Objets d'art et de haute curiosité tableaux anciens composant la précieuse collection de M. Ernest Odiot. Hôtel Drouot, Paris. April 26–27, 1889, p. 24, no. 6, ill., as by Mabuse (Gossart).
Gustav Glück. "Kinderbildnisse aus der Sammlung Margaretens von Österreich." Jahrbuch der kunsthistorischen Sammlungen in Wien 25 (1905), pp. 227–28 n. 3, mentions it as presumably by the Master of the Death of the Virgin.
[E.] Firmenich–Richartz inAllgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler. Ed. Ulrich Thieme and Felix Becker. Vol. 3, Leipzig, 1909, p. 217, dates the painting to Joos's middle period; lists it in the collection of Countess Miranda–Nielssen [Paris].
Alfred von Wurzbach. Niederländisches Künstler-Lexikon. Vol. 2, Vienna, 1910, p. 609, lists it under Jan van Scorel [then regarded by some as a candidate for identification with the Master of the Death of the Virgin, now recognized by almost all to be Joos van Cleve] as a forgery along with most other similar half–length compositions in the group.
Martin Conway. The Van Eycks and Their Followers. London, 1921, pp. 402, 404, as by Joos; dates it slightly later than 1510; notes that the Virgin's facial type resembles that in Rogier van der Weyden's drawing in the Louvre (inv. no. 20.664) and states that "it must in any case be copied from some Rogier, for the type does not recur in the work of Joos".
Friedrich Winkler. Die altniederländische Malerei: Die Malerei in Belgien und Holland von 1400–1600. Berlin, 1924, pp. 249–50, as by Joos, shortly after 1515.
Ludwig von Baldass. Joos van Cleve, der Meister des Todes Mariä. Vienna, 1925, p. 7 n. 72, pp. 24, 26, 31, no. 51, fig. 46b, as by Joos; dates it about 1520 in the text, but about 1525 in the catalogue; observes clear parallels with the Madonna pictures of Jan Gossart.
The Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 13, 14th ed. London, 1929, p. 147.
Max J. Friedländer. Die altniederländische Malerei. Vol. 9, Joos van Cleve, Jan Provost, Joachim Patenier. Berlin, 1931, p. 136, no. 57, as an original by Joos, from about 1525, mentions an old copy on the art market in Paris (55 x 40 cm).
Fritz Neugass. "Abschluss einer Epoche: Versteigerung der Sammlung Berwind." Weltkunst 32 (August 1, 1962), p. 13, ill.
Max J. Friedländer et al. Early Netherlandish Painting. Vol. 9, part 1, Joos van Cleve, Jan Provost, Joachim Patenier. New York, 1972, p. 62, no. 57, pl. 72.
John Oliver Hand. "Joos van Cleve: The Early and Mature Works." PhD diss., Princeton University, 1978, p. 310, no. 83, fig. 95, lists it among works known only through copies; rejects the attribution of the figures or the landscape to Joos's hand; suggests that the picture may echo a lost original.
John Oliver Hand. Letter to Guy Bauman and Maryan Ainswoth. July 26, 1983, attributes it to Joos and his workshop, about 1525; suggests that the underdrawing is by Joos while the paint layer is probably by a different hand; observes that the facial type of the Virgin is atypical for Joos and the still-life elements more heavily painted than his; considers the landscape to be the work of a specialist in Joos's shop.
Lorne Campbell. The Early Flemish Pictures in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen. Cambridge, 1985, p. 32, notes a resemblance, in reverse, to a painting by a follower of Joos in the Royal Collection (Hampton Court), London, and one attributed to Joos in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.
Guy C. Bauman. "The Jack and Belle Linsky Collection in the Metropolitan Museum of Art: Addenda to the Catalogue." Metropolitan Museum Journal 21 (1986), pp. 154–59, no. A.1, ill. (color, overall and details), as by Joos and a collaborator, about 1525; notes that the landscape in the Crucifixion triptych (MMA 41.190.20a–c) is very similarly painted, also without underdrawing, and may be the work of the same specialist; observes that the background scenes suggest that the subject in the foreground is meant to be the Rest on the Flight into Egypt; suggests that the infant Christ asleep against his mother's breast is an allusion to the Lamentation when she will hold her dead son; indicates that the still-life elements in the painting relate symbolically to the theme of mankind's salvation and elaborates on their iconography; identifies the inscription on the recto page of the open book as the opening words of the De Profundis (Psalm 130:1–2), followed by the Gloria Patri, and the text on the verso page as the closing words of the Magnificat (Luke 1:54–55)
Elisa Bermejo Martinez. "Una virgen con el niño, de Joos van Cleve, monogramada y noticias sobre una adoración." Archivo español de arte 64 (July–September 1991), pp. 350–51, fig. 3, compares our picture to a version now in a Spanish private collection, claiming that the latter work is monogrammed by Joos.
Introduction by Walter A. Liedtke inFlemish Paintings in America: A Survey of Early Netherlandish and Flemish Paintings in the Public Collections of North America. Antwerp, 1992, p. 343, no. 288, ill.
Jochen Sander. Niederländische Gemälde im Städel, 1400–1550. Mainz, 1993, pp. 220–21, ill., discusses it in connection with a related work by an "Antwerp (?) Master about 1525" in the Städel.
Reindert L. Falkenburg. The Fruit of Devotion: Mysticism and the Imagery of Love in Flemish Paintings of the Virgin and Child, 1450-1550. Philadelphia, 1994, pp. 14–15, 85–86, ill., mentions it as an early example in the Southern Netherlands of the Italian convention of the Virgin sitting in front of a stone ballustrade or table on which fruit is displayed; notes that this motif, which goes back to the mid-15th century, was adopted by Northern artists through the works of Andrea Mantegna and Giovanni Bellini; observes that Northern artists modified the pictorial type by portraying the Virgin with a prayerbook in her hand next to foods and various objects of consumption, thus giving the table the character of a 'prie-dieu' and adding a sensual dimension to the believer's meditation.
Maryan W. Ainsworth. "A Meeting of Sacred and Secular Worlds." From Van Eyck to Bruegel: Early Netherlandish Painting in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Ed. Maryan W. Ainsworth and Keith Christiansen. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1998, pp. 36, 59, 73–74, 209, 211, 268, 326, 360–64, no. 96, ill. (color, overall and details), ascribes it to Joos van Cleve and a collaborator, about 1525, the period of Joos's maturity; attributes the Patinir-inspired landscape, which became so popular from the mid-1520s, to a specialist, as it shows no underdrawing and is more loosely painted than the figures.
Dagmar Eichberger. Leben mit Kunst, Wirken durch Kunst: Sammelwesen und Hofkunst unter Margarete von Österreich, Regentin der Niederlande. Turnhout, Belgium, 2002, p. 216, ill.
John Oliver Hand. Joos van Cleve: The Complete Paintings. New Haven, 2004, pp. 132, 149, no. 59, fig. 138, dates it about 1525.
Micha Leeflang inJoos van Cleve, Leonardo des Nordens. Ed. Peter van den Brink et al. Exh. cat., Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum, Aachen. Stuttgart, 2011, pp. 143–44, fig. 119 (color).
Peter van den Brink inJoos van Cleve, Leonardo des Nordens. Ed. Peter van den Brink et al. Exh. cat., Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum, Aachen. Stuttgart, 2011, p. 174.