Getty Acquires Rediscovered Masterpiece of the Flemish Renaissance at Auction

Wednesday, July 3, 2024
Getty Acquires Rediscovered Masterpiece of the Flemish Renaissance at Auction

A work by the Flemish painter Quentin Metsys (1466-1530) was sold Tuesday evening for more than 12.5 million euros during at Christie's, a record for the Flemish painter.

Long believed to have been lost, the 16th-century painting’s recent rediscovery offered Getty an opportunity to acquire one of the most significant paintings of the Flemish Renaissance to appear on the market in decades. The painting will go on view in the Getty Center’s North Pavilion in the coming weeks.

“The tender beauty and accessibility of Metsys’ representation of the familial bond between the Virgin Mary and Christ Child represents a major innovation in early Netherlandish painting that greatly heightens the emotional impact of the image,” says Timothy Potts, Maria Hummer-Tuttle and Robert Tuttle Director of the Getty Museum. “Painted at the height of his career, and preserved today in excellent condition, Madonna of the Cherries is among Metsys’ most appealing and influential compositions. Acknowledged as a masterpiece in its day, the painting became especially famous in the 17th century, after which its whereabouts were lost. I have no doubt that its spiritual and artistic resonance will make it one of the most beloved works in our collection.”

The painting depicts the Virgin and Child in loving embrace while seated on a regal throne. Christ, portrayed as a robust nude infant, wraps both arms around his mother’s neck and kisses her. The Virgin firmly presses him to her breast and delicately flourishes a stem of cherries between the pinched fingers of her right hand. Through the large arched window at left, a Romanesque palace beside a lake is visible.

Rich with symbolism, the cherries have celestial connotations as the fruit of heaven, while their color signifies the future blood of Christ’s passion and sacrifice on the cross. The still life in the foreground elaborates on the theme of Christ’s future sacrifice, with a yellow apple referring to Christ’s role as the new Adam.

“This painting represents Metsys’ distinct personal style derived from his absorption of Netherlandish visual traditions and keen appreciation of significant Italian artistic developments,” says Anne Woollett, curator of paintings at the Getty Museum. “The impressive sophistication of the subject and extremely high quality of its execution support the conclusion that this panel is the famous Madonna of the Cherries by Quentin Metsys.”

The first recorded owner of Madonna of the Cherries was prominent early 17th-century art collector Cornelis van der Geest who, according to contemporary accounts, resisted efforts by the Archdukes to obtain the painting from him. All traces of the painting were lost following its sale to an anonymous buyer in 1668. It resurfaced at auction in Paris in 1920 but was no longer recognizable due to several additions, such as a thick layer of discolored varnish and overpainting, including a green curtain painted over the background landscape. It reappeared once again in 2015 at a Christie’s auction, still marred by the later additions, and labeled as a studio version. After a subsequent conservation treatment, which revealed its exceptional quality and condition, scholars recognized it as the prime version of Metsys’ masterpiece.

Quentin Metsys was the foremost painter in Antwerp during the early 16th century. He was known for his compelling portraits, sophisticated use of color, and representations of emotion and expression. Drawing on the example of 15th-century predecessors and Italian influences, his work marked a turning point in the history of Netherlandish art. As Antwerp established itself as a center for artistic innovation, Metsys introduced to the region new types of portraiture and secular painting. In the 17th century, he was esteemed as the “father” of the Antwerp school of painting by collectors and leading artists of the time, notably Peter Paul Rubens.

The Madonna of the Cherries theme derives from the example of Leonardo da Vinci two decades earlier. In Metsys’ painting, Christ’s lower body, especially his heavy thighs, and the warm modeling of the flesh, recalls figural types and sfumato of Leonardo and his pupils. Metsys also pays homage to his contemporary Gerard David’s development of the theme of The Virgin and Child tenderly embracing accompanied by a still life, evident in Getty’s recently acquired Holy Family. 

Main Image :Madonna of the Cherries, ca. 1529. Quentin Metsys. Oil on panel, 29 5/8 x 24 3/4 in. (75.3 x 62.9 cm). Image: Christie's

Stephanie Cime

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Anna Melnykova, "Palace of Labor (palats praci), architector I. Pretro, 1916", shot with analog Canon camera, 35 mm Fuji film in March 2022.

Anna Melnykova, "Palace of Labor (palats praci), architector I. Pretro, 1916", shot with analog Canon camera, 35 mm Fuji film in March 2022.


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