Settings and Subjects in Early Netherlandish Painting

Lead Research Organisation: University of York
Department Name: History of Art

Abstract

Behind the Scenes: Accessing the Divine in Early Netherlandish Art
My proposed research within the parameters of the "Settings and Subjects" project will explore how different settings to Early Netherlandish portraiture/depictions of the Virgin demonstrate, and in some cases directly impact, the perceived or desired relationships between the sacred subjects of these paintings and the artists/patrons/communities that sourced them. The aim of the study would be, predominantly, to explore how variances in settings to sacred subjects affect/demonstrate viewers' reception of them. During the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, medieval devotional trends with images and icons at their core were at their apex, arriving at an iconoclastic climax with the Renaissance and Protestant Reformation that spread through Northern Europe. Early Netherlandish Art sits upon a fascinating precipice between the medieval devotional mindset and early modern modes of expression, and the relationship between 'setting' and 'subject' is a significant avenue through which to explore this convergence. An aspect of this research could focus on cultural contact with the East, specifically in form of Byzantine icons, alongside wider contemporary socio-political issues such as the Council of Ferrara-Florence. A typical setting for Byzantine icons is an abstract gold background, stressing the divine quality of the figures they depict, and visually abstracting sacred subjects from any accessible earthly location. Whereas specific locations can simultaneously estrange/engage a viewer, an abstract background arguably allows a recognisable image to be easily transferred into local "visual dialects".

I would like to approach this study by comparing paintings that encompass a Byzantine stylistic tradition of mid-length portraits with gold abstract background (NG711 & NG712), alongside those that use Byzantine icons as their subject's foundation, but present these within settings of varying detail. NG3066 and NG6514 both seem to use the Italo-Byzantine 'Cambrai Madonna' as an iconographic prototype, but place the Virgin and Child within vastly different settings. One is abstract, the other generously articulated within a domestic interior, a window allowing a glimpse to world outside, and the fire burning - an action that is unfolding and existing within time. The latter emphasises with more vivacity that divine truths can be found within the world, rather than only outside of it. Maryan W. Ainsworth stresses that Byzantine icons 'were believed not only to be originals from the East but also to have been miraculously created...or painted by St. Luke himself'. As such, the recently procured Bouts' 'St. Luke Drawing the Virgin' would also form a central focus for my study, and is one of many reasons this project excites me particularly, alongside the sheer variety of settings exhibited through the National Gallery's collection. The narrative quality that the "heavily articulated background" of the Bouts' piece, emphasises the intercessory nature of art and the artist. We see a consecutive relationship between subject and painting unfold: from the posing Virgin, to the first-hand portrait, to the replicated painting in the studio, leading out of the interior to the world outside. This potentially exhibits a crucial function of religious art: to form a trail from the sacred subject that can be retraced through anagogical progression.

People

ORCID iD

Jordan Cook (Student)

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Making a Masterpiece: Bouts and Beyond, 1450-2020 (York Art Gallery Exhibition) 
Organisation York Museums Trust
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution This exhibition was co-curated by my Ph.D. supervisor Jeanne Nuechterlein. I acted as a curatorial assistant, specifically contributing to the interpretation of the central painting "Saint Luke Drawing the Virgin and Child' for an in-gallery digital interactive.
Collaborator Contribution York Art Gallery: Jenny Alexander/ Beatrice Bertram served as the co-curators from York Art Gallery. York Museums Trust digital team created the digital interface and provided equipment for the interactive on "Saint Luke Drawing the Virgin and Child". They also filmed and edited footage for informational videos, and sourced sound.
Impact For my personal involvement in this collaboration, it was the creation of a digital interactive that is currently being transitioned into an online interface.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Digital Interactive for "Making a Masterpiece: Bouts and Beyond, 1450-2020"(York Art Gallery Exhibition) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact My role was to collaborate with the digital team in researching and creating a digital interactive, or "app", to be displayed in-gallery during the exhibit and, eventually, online. The touch-screen interactive provides an in-depth look at the Workshop of Dieric Bouts's Saint Luke Drawing the Virgin and Child, on loan from The Bowes Museum. The interactive went through many guises during the planning process, but the final product is split into three strands: The Painting, Making the Painting, and Designing a Composition. The first acts as an introduction to the painting, allowing the viewer to learn more about the legend of St Luke as an artist and discover the meaning behind religious symbols and smaller details within the artwork. In "Making the Painting", we utilise infrared reflectography of the underdrawing to discuss the materials and methods involved in making the painting, seeing the decisions the artist made during the creative process. Finally, in "Designing a Composition", we compare the St Luke painting with two earlier works (Jan van Eyck's Madonna of Chancellor Rolin and Rogier van der Weyden's Saint Luke Drawing the Virgin) and consider the artist's inspirations and innovations in the painting's composition.
The interactive also includes video interviews with Dr Jeanne Nuechterlein (exhibition curator) and me, talking in more depth about some intriguing aspects of the Bouts Workshop St Luke.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018,2019,2020
 
Description Exhibition Tour and Talk (York Art Gallery) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact 15 postgraduates attended for a tour of the Bouts and Beyond exhibition space which I had been on the curatorial team for. I gave a tour of the central space, and engaged with questions and discussion afterward.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Paper for Leeds IMC 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Panel at Leeds IMC: Buildings, Books, and Bodies: The Materiality of Late-Medieval Devotional Art and Literature

Abstract: This interdisciplinary session investigates how the material, and ideas of materiality, facilitate spiritual experience in the later Middle Ages. Focusing on visual and literary cultures of Mariological and Christological devotion, the panel will explore how the material is invoked to assist a work's creative and spiritual endeavours. By considering uses of portal archways in images of the Virgin, the motif of Christ's body as book in literature and manuscript culture, and the materiality of a Christological prayer-sequence written for a female anchoress, the session investigates how readers might enact a movement from the material to the spiritual to enhance their devotional practices.

Papers:
(1) Jordan Cook, 'The Spiritual Significance of Tangibility in Dieric Bout's 'Triptych of the Life of the Virgin'
(2) Natalie Jones, 'Reading the Corpus: Christ's Body as Book in the Later Middle Ages'
(3) Hetta Howes, 'Making a Good Woman out of a Manuscript'
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Research Talk at Local Institution 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Approx. 30 students in the wider discipline of Medieval Studies attended my talk entitled 'Setting the Scene in the Bouts Workshop "Saint Luke Drawing the Virgin",' sparked questions and discussion afterward, and advertised the upcoming York Art Gallery exhibition which featured the painting in question.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Talk and Workshop (York Art Gallery) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact As part of a series of volunteer talks from university students, I gave a workshop to visitors at York Art Gallery. This was to go alongside the Bouts and Beyond exhibition. This included giving a 20-minute talk on the idea of "copying" and "The Masterpiece" in medieval and renaissance painting, followed by a workshop of my own design where I encouraged participants to identify originals and copies from multiple print-outs of Early Netherlandish paintings.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019