GEERTGEN tot Sint Jans
(b. 1460/65, Leiden, d. 1490, Haarlem)


Netherlandish painter, active in Haarlem. Almost nothing is known of his career. He was a pupil of Ouwater and he died when he was about 28. His name means "Little Gerard of the Brethren of St John", after the Order in Haarlem of which he was a lay-brother.

For the monastery church of the Brethren he painted his only documented work, a triptych of the Crucifixion, of which two large panels (originally two sides of a wing) survive (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna). Certain features of these paintings - particularly the slender, doll-like figures with smooth, rather egg-like heads (probably influenced by wood carving) - are highly distinctive, and a small oeuvre of about fifteen paintings has been attributed to Geertgen on stylistic grounds.

Unlike the Vienna panels, most of the other pictures given to him are fairly small. They include such remarkably beautiful works as the Nativity (National Gallery, London), a radiant nocturnal scene, and St John the Baptist in the Wilderness (Staatliche Museen, Berlin), which shows an exquisite feeling for nature.

The vein of tender melancholy that pervades Geertgen's work, the beguilingly innocent charm of his figures, and his sensitivity to light are perhaps the salient qualities that make him one of the most irresistibly attractive artists of the Early Netherlandish School.