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Un disciple tardif de Rogier de la Pasture: Maître Johannes (alias Johannes Hoesacker?)

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image of Oud Holland - Quarterly for Dutch Art History

The triptych which has hung above the main altar of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception at Maria-ter-Heide (Brasschaat, near Antwerp) since the nineteenth century unfolds a highly unusual iconographical programme. The representation on the central panel is a 'Holy Kinship' with Saint Anne; the left and right shutters show a 'Tree of Jesse', and the 'Kinship of Effra and Ismeria' respectively. This unusual combination of themes, and the coat of arms of the abbey at Tongerlo on the staff of the kneeling donor on the left shutter, enable us to identify the triptych from an old description, predating 1615, of the art treasures in the abbey at Tongerlo. As early as 1888 canon Van Spilbeek was able to demonstrate on the basis of two entries in the abbey's ledgers that the retable was made around 1513-1515. It was commissioned by the then abbot of Tongerlo, Antonius Tsgrooten. The painter's name appears on both bills of payment of 1513-1515. He was called Johannes, and he was married to Marie Hoesacker. His apparent lack of a surname might intimate that he was a foundling. Hitherto, the triptych in Maria-ter-Heide was the only known work by 'Johannes'. The author suggests that he also painted the monumental triptych with scenes from the lives of Christ and Mary which has been on loan to the museum at Àvila since 1971 from the Provincial Council. In 1968 Karel G. Boon attributed this work to an anonymous North-Netherlandish painter. According to Boon the same artist painted two wings with John the Baptist and Saint Agnes (Paris, private collection) and a 'Baptism of Christ' (Madrid, private collection). 'Johannes' could be the maker of these three works. What is more, the painter of the triptych in Maria-ter-Heide could be credited with two retable wings which have been in the Museo de Santa Cruz in Toledo since the 19608. Their subjects are 'Saint Andrew with Saint Francis' and 'Saint James with Saint Antony of Padua'; on the back of these panels is a 'Visitation'. Judging by the numerous figures he borrowed from Rogier van der Weyden, 'Johannes' seems to have been fascinated by the great Brussels master. His interest in Van der Weyden's art and the fact that he worked for the abbot of Tongerlo suggest that he was active in Brabant. The Dutch elements which Boon claimed to recognise on the Àvila triptych are quite inconspicuous, proving how dangerous it is to determine an artist's provenance solely on the basis of aesthetic impressions. The iconographic programme on the triptychs in Maria-ter-Heide and Avila and the retable wings in Toledo is highly unusual. This indicates that they were not made for the open market on the painter's own initiative, but were ordered specially. Perhaps 'Johannes' ability to convert such iconographic programmes into pictures was one of the reasons for his success a success which, in view of the presence of two of his works in Castile, assumes an international dimension.


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