Century Magazine/Volume 48/Issue 4/Old Dutch Masters. Quinten Massys

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Century Magazine by Timothy Cole
Volume 48, Issue 4 (August, 1894)Old Dutch Masters. Quinten Massys
Century Mag Illuminated I Matsys.png
n glancing at the history of Flemish art, a distinction must be borne in mind between its two dominant schools—that of Bruges, of which the brothers Van Eyck (1366—1440) were the first great representatives, and which was further adorned by the famous names of Van der Weyden and Memling; and that of Antwerp, which Quinten Massys founded at about the beginning of the sixteenth century, and of which Rubens and Van Dyck are the final glory. There is this difference between them: the school of Bruges, which was the earlier of the two, was original and indigenous to the soil, born on the spot, and continued to assert its independence to the last; while the one which succeeded it became, after the time of Massys, subject to the spirit of the Italian Renaissance, and adopted the Italian fashion, which ill accorded with the homely realism of its native environment. Thus Flemish art from the time of Massys to that of Rubens is a combination of two manners, a mongrel style which strikes the beholder who is conversant with Italian art as rather odd and incongruous.

But Quinten Massys is a genuine Fleming, as independent and personal as Rubens himself, though recalling the old school of the Van Eycks; he is indeed generally regarded as the connecting-link between these two extremes in that he unites the best traditions of the former with a softer and broader treatment, and a grandeur (though by no means voluptuous ness) which seems prophetic of the latter. This is especially evident in his celebrated work of "The Entombment," an altarpiece for the chapel of the Joiners' Company in the Cathedral of Antwerp. Sir Joshua Reynolds says of this work, "There are heads in this picture not exceeded by Raphael, and indeed not unlike his [early] manner of painting portraits, hard and minutely finished." The work is now in the Public Gallery at Antwerp. Besides works of this order, Massys also painted works of a secular nature, such as those where merchants or money-changers are seen weighing their gold or counting their gains. A fine example of this kind is "The Banker and his Wife" in the Louvre. Here may be found the same delicacy of pencil, the same avoidance of heavy shadows, as in his other works, and therein a test of the genuineness of similar productions often ascribed to him. A few portraits by his hand exist, which are full of individuality; such are those of himself and his wife to be seen in the room of portraits at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, and of which I have chosen that of his wife as an illustration. The two portraits are upon one panel; that of his wife is wonderfully well preserved, as, being the inner panel, and boxed in the frame, it is shown only upon application to the custodian. It is delightfully fresh, and charming to look at. Truly a picture of "the lassie that's so neat and clean," and pure and sweet withal.

Quinten Massys, whose name appears in the various forms of Matsys, Metsys, and Messys), was born at Antwerp about 1460. He is said to have been the son of a locksmith, and to have worked at his father's trade—he is popularly known as "the blacksmith of Antwerp." Doubt has, however, been cast upon this, as likewise upon the romantic story telling how he wooed and won his bride. The father of his lady-love had declared that she should marry a painter, and Massys accordingly left the anvil, and devoted himself to the study of painting. Such was the power of his love that he rapidly became a master in his new art, and so wedded the object of his passion. There appears, however, some foundation in fact for crediting this pretty romance, since in the Latin inscription in the Cathedral of Antwerp in honor of Massys occurs the line,

          Connubialis amor de Mulcibre fecit Apellem,

and the master himself wrote on his own portrait the words, "Pictorem me fecit Arnor." In 1497 Massys joined the Painters' Guild, soon rose to fame, and attained station, wealth, and landed property in his native town. He was the friend of the famous engraver Lucas van Leyden, and was visited by another even more renowned, Albert Dürer. He married twice, and died at Antwerp in 1530, leaving a large family. Two of his sons were painters. The portrait in the Uffizi is that of his second wife.

"Portrait of Massys' Second Wife," in the Uffizi.