Oil on oak panel
Dimensions: h. 71.5cm, W. 48.5 cm (28.15 in x 19.09 in)
Later period frame in molded oak wood
Framed dimensions: h. 88 cm, l. 64.5 cm (34.65 in. x 25.4 in.)
Our attractive panel depicts a Virgin and Child reading a leaf of parchment. The Virgin in the foreground occupies almost the entire surface. This very close-up effect imposes its presence and creates proximity with the viewer. Marie is seated in an interior near a window, in front of a large curtain, her elbow leaning against a stone entablature. She holds in her hands a parchment with gothic writing that she is reading. The Virgin holds the naked Child Jesus partially covered in cloths in her knees. The child looks tenderly at his mother, raising his right arm in her direction, while his left hand holds a red apple, symbol of original sin and alluding to his mission as future Redeemer. The Virgin is richly dressed and wrapped in brightly colored fabrics ranging from yellow-orange and red to the blue of the dress. His youthful face, with symmetrical features, straight nose, a dimple on the chin, modestly lowered eyes. Her Venetian blond hair with wavy locks is divided by a middle part and partially hidden by a turban held by a tiara set with pearls, a long curl is brought back to the front of the shoulder. Her transparent white voile blouse is also embroidered with pearls. Through the opening in the masonry we see a Flemish village.
The theme of the Virgin reading is linked to the episode of “rest during the flight into Egypt”, with a landscape background evoking the Flemish countryside which appears through the window. The Virgin reads a sheet of parchment on which is written a religious text in Latin, decipherable in certain versions, where it is a question of "our father Abraham"
Our composition derives from a missing work by Jan Gossaert (Maubeuge? around 1478-Middelburg or Breda 1532).
Pieter Coecke Van Aelst and his workshop took up the composition of Gossaert's original work and produced several copies whose variations focus on the backgrounds (landscape or an interior) or on certain details of the Virgin's costume. Almost all the panels are trefoiled at the top.
• By Pieter Coecke Van Aelst, oil on panel: 82.5 x 63 cm, Curtius Museum, Liège
• By Pieter Coecke Van Aelst, oil on panel: 84.8 x 63.8 cm, Christie's London sale, December 8, 2005
• Workshop of Pieter Coecke Van Aelst, oil on panel: 64.5 cm x 46 cm, Artcurial Paris Sale, December 13, 2011
Several other versions (without illustrations) are mentioned in the artist's catalog raisonné by Georges Marlier .
Literature: G. Marlier, The Flemish Renaissance, Pierre Coeck d’Alost, Brussels, 1966
Pieter Coecke van Aelst or Pieter Coecke van Aelst the Elder (Aalst, 14 August 1502 – Brussels, 6 December 1550) was a Flemish painter, sculptor, architect, author and designer of woodcuts, goldsmith's work, stained glass and tapestries. His principal subjects were Christian religious themes. He worked in Antwerp and Brussels and was appointed court painter to Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor.
Pieter Coecke van Aelst later studied in Italy where in Rome he made drawings after Classical sculpture and architecture.
Pieter Coecke van Aelst was a versatile artist and a master designer who devised projects across a wide range of different media, including panel paintings, sculptures, prints, tapestries, stained glass and goldsmith's work
In his art Coecke showed his ambition to emulate contemporary Italian artists. From the later 1520s his works start to reveal the Italian influence, as is noticeable in his figures, which gain in monumentality, and the greater movement and drama in his compositions. His main model was Raphael and his circle. Coecke was likely already familiar with their compositions in Antwerp. However, when he traveled to Constantinople around 1533, he likely visited Mantua, where Raphael's leading pupil Giulio Romano was active at the time. Romano possessed a large collection of Raphael's drawings and Coecke must have availed himself of the opportunity to study these in detail during his visit. After his return to Flanders Coecke's style changed dramatically and approached the Italian models he had studied.
Coecke operated a large workshop, which was organized in an efficient manner. He acted as an entrepreneur who provided his assistants with his original inventions, which were then turned into final works under his supervision. The style that he created was widely imitated.