Description: The Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple with Saint Anne and Saint Joachim: wing from an altarpiece
oil on panel
57 7/8 x 24 3/8 in. (147.2 x 61.8 cm.)
Artist or Maker: Jan Mertens van Dornicke, the Master of 1518 (Antwerp c. 1470-c. 1527)
Provenance: Formerly from the collection of a Belgian nobleman.
Notes: Jan van Dornicke's father was the sculptor Jan Mertens I (active Antwerp c. 1473-1509), whose family probably originated in Tournai. The younger Mertens was apprenticed to the painter Jan Gossaert in 1505, and in 1509 became a master in the Antwerp guild of St. Luke, serving as regent in 1478, 1481 and 1487. He was one of the leading Antwerp artists of the time and had an active studio, becoming the teacher of Pieter Coecke van Aelst, who was also his son-in-law. Coecke's work was in fact used as the basis of the identification of Van Dornicke with the Master of 1518, an Antwerp painter named after the date inscribed on the painted wings of a carved wooden altarpiece of the Life of the Virgin in the Marienkirche, Lübeck. The lively narrative and exaggerated poses evident in the painted wings in Lübeck are fully characteristic of Antwerp Mannerism, but Van Dornicke's work is in addition distinguished by its glowing colours, sense of structure and composition, as well as a delicacy of style.
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This picture, which is a probably the left wing from an altarpiece, is thought to be from Van Dornicke's early period, displaying a more pronounced mannerism and richness of detail than is associated with his later oeuvre. Most striking about this master is his disregard for depth, resulting in all the essential figures of the composition - including the dog - being represented as a silhouette, recalling the 1518 altarpiece in Lübeck (see M.J. Friedländer, Early Netherlandish Painting, Leiden, 1974, pp. 29-33 and 74, no. 70, pls. 70-2). Particularly distinctive is the contrapposto of Joachim, a stance that is echoed in the figure of Melchior in the panel of the Adoration of the Magi in the Lübeck altarpiece and elsewhere. Also characteristic is the gesture of Joachim's raised hand as he watches his daughter walking up the stairs. Stylistically, it would seem that this picture is datable to circa 1520: it is close to the altarpiece of Christ at the House of Simon the Pharisee in the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, London, of about 1516, besides also connecting to the 1518 altarpiece.
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