MASSYS, Quentin
(b. 1465/66, Leuven, d. 1530, Antwerpen)

Virgin with the Child

Oil on panel, diameter 22,5 cm
Rockox House, Antwerp

Around 1500, when the port of Antwerp began to emerge as the capital of north European trade, it also became a cultural melting pot. All manner of artists flocked into the town on the Scheldt. One of these was Quentin Massys from Louvain, who registered as a painter in the St. Lucas Guild in 1491, and is regarded as the founder of the Antwerp School which was soon to topple the hegemony of the School of Bruges. He remained faithful to the Flemish tradition, although the sfumato in the background of some of his landscapes shows that he was familiar with the work of Leonardo da Vinci. He is usually regarded as a painter of monumental works, and rightly so, but he also painted smaller scale scenes with figures. This is hardly surprising, since his technique had its sources in miniature paintings. The Holy Virgin with the Child Jesus, a small tondo, bears witness to the attention the master paid to sensitive, finely detailed drawing to express the tender movement of the form, and the subtle use of colour to convey the essence of a variety of textures.