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Monforte Altarpiece

The Fall and Redemption of ManMovementEarly Netherlandish painting, Northern Renaissance

Hugo van der Goes (c. 1430/1440 – 1482) was one of the most significant and original Flemish painters of the late 15th century. Van der Goes was an important painter of altarpieces as well as portraits. He introduced important innovations in painting through his monumental style, use of a specific colour range and individualistic manner of portraiture. From 1483 onwards, the presence of his masterpiece, the Portinari Triptych, in Florence played a role in the development of realism and the use of colour in Italian Renaissance art.[1]

Saint George and the Dragon

Later works gradually abandoned illusionism for an increased emphasis on the artificiality of the picture as created image, divorced from reality. This effect was achieved by the use of a limited range of colours and the expressive distortion of figures as well as space.[2] Example of works in this later style are the Death of the Virgin (Groeningemuseum, Bruges) and the Adoration of the Shepherds (c. 1480, Gemäldegalerie, Berlin). Other characteristics imputed to these later works are a breakdown of space, a renunciation of still-life elements not directly related to the subject matter and an exaggerated agitation and an excess of expression in the figures. Early scholars saw the evolution as a reflection of the increasing mental instability of the artist. Later interpretations gave much weight to the artist's adherence to the Modern Devotion movement as an important influence. These interpretations see the later paintings as attempts by van der Goes to translate the ideas of this movement into a visual medium. In particular the movement's emphasis on meditation is seen as playing a key role in the artist abandoning illusionism.[15]

The muted coloring of the late Adoration of the Shepherds seemed to support the interpretation of a stylistic evolution away from illusionism. A recent restoration of the Adoration has provided new visual evidence, which contradicts the earlier reading as it revealed that rather than muted the painting was bright and strongly illusionistic.[16]

Not all scholars agree there was a stylistic development in van der Goes's work. Some insist that his career of only 15 years was too short to allow for a development to be distinguished. Other scholars regard van der Goes as an artist with an ability to create in the same period and even within a single composition very different types and styles of work. They ma

The muted coloring of the late Adoration of the Shepherds seemed to support the interpretation of a stylistic evolution away from illusionism. A recent restoration of the Adoration has provided new visual evidence, which contradicts the earlier reading as it revealed that rather than muted the painting was bright and strongly illusionistic.[16]

Not all scholars agree there was a stylistic development in van der Goes's work. Some insist that his career of only 15 years was too short to allow for a development to be distinguished. Other scholars regard van der Goes as an artist with an ability to create in the same period and even within a single composition very different types and styles of work. They maintain that van der Goes had the flexibility and range to use or discard techniques whenever they suited his purpose.[2]

Hugo van der Goes left a large number of drawings. These drawings or the paintings themselves were used by followers to produce large numbers of copies of compositions from his own hand that are now lost.[12] After van der Goes's death, the book illustrator Alexander Bening, who was married to a niece of van der Goes, likely came in the possession of van der Goes's drawings and patterns. Simon Bening, the son of Alexander Bening, is believed to have introduced these drawings in Bruges later on since compositions by van der Goes appear in an illustrated book of hours created by the Ghent-Bruges school of illuminators.[1]

A drawing of Jacob and Rachel preserved at the Christ Church Picture Gallery, Oxford is th

A drawing of Jacob and Rachel preserved at the Christ Church Picture Gallery, Oxford is thought to be a rare surviving autograph drawing by van der Goes. It was possibly a preliminary study for a stained glass window.[17]