(b. 1594, Nancy, d. 1638, Nancy)

The Three Marys at the Tomb

Etching, 442 x 287 mm
British Museum, London

Bellange worked as a painter, designer of masques and graphic artist at the ducal Court at Nancy in the early years of the 17th century. Several dozen surviving drawings and a limited number of etchings testify to his brilliance in these media and show why he was held in such esteem by his patrons.

Out of varied Italian and Flemish elements Bellange created a style which is intensely personal and which can be seen at its best in the etching of the Three Marys at the Sepulchre. The most immediately striking characteristics of the etching are the strange poses and forms of the three women, their long, sweeping draperies, their swan necks and tiny heads with hair strained up from the nape of the neck, and their elongated nervous fingers. The forms are those of a hyper-sophisticated court society, but the neuroticism which they display has taken a religious form, as it often did at the time of the Counter-Reformation.

To create the mysterious atmosphere of his compositions Bellange uses every trick known to his predecessors. In the Three Marys, for instance, he places the three principal figures in the very foreground, but turns them round so that they all face away from the spectator and into the composition. He chooses a viewpoint so high that the ground is tipped up, and the spectator seems to be looking down on the principal figures. Bellange has sought other effects of surprise in a spirit very typical of a Mannerist; for instance, he has chosen the unusual course of representing the action as seen from the inside of the cave, and has broken the unity of time by showing the Marys twice over, once in the foreground and again in the mouth of the cave in the background.