Man, Myth, and Sensual Pleasures: Jan Gossart's Renaissance

October 6, 2010–January 17, 2011

Philip of Burgundy and Court Patronage

Philip of Burgundy (1464–1524), with whom Gossart had traveled to Rome, was particularly favored by the Burgundian-Habsburg court. He was appointed to the important posts of admiral of the Burgundian fleet (1502–17) and bishop of Utrecht (1517–24). Beginning about 1515 he strove to establish a humanist court at each of his two castles—first at Souburg, on the Island of Walcheren, and then at Wijk bij Duurstede, near Utrecht. As Philip's court poet and biographer Gerard Geldenhouwer wrote, he invited such illustrious artists as the Venetian Jacopo de' Barbari and Jan Gossart to Souburg to decorate his castle, calling them the "Zeuxis and Appelles of our time," a reference to the most heralded artists of antiquity.

Working as Philip's court artist, Gossart made numerous paintings of erotically charged mythological themes, such as Venus and Cupid, Hercules and Deianira, and Hermaphroditus and Salmacis. Among the most monumental and important of these works was Neptune and Amphitrite (Staatliche Museen zu Berlin), which Gossart signed in 1516 for the first time using the Latinized form JOANNES MALBODIVS PINGEBAT. It is the earliest representation of the theme with colossal nude figures in Northern European painting. As admiral of the Burgundian fleet, Philip saw himself as Neptune, the god of the sea. By adding his signature and motto "More to come" in a seemingly impromptu script at the upper right, Philip identified himself with Neptune and with the art of antiquity, merging past and present.