Sunday, May 19, 2013

Goes, Hugo van der

The Fall of Adam (left side of Diptych of the Fall and Salvation)
oil on oak
33.8 x 23 cm
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria

Hugo van der Goes (c. 1430/1440 - 1482)  was, along with Jan van Eyck, Rogier van der Weyden, Hans Memling and Dieric Bouts, one of the most important of the Early Netherlandish painters. His strange, melancholy genius found expression in religious works of profound but often disturbing spirituality. Characteristic of his work were his monumental figures. He did not master the art of perspective but proportions and relations of figures and background far surpass that of his predecessors. Faces and hands were very expressive.

Nothing is known of his life before 1467, when he became a master in the painters' guild at Ghent. He had numerous commissions from the town of Ghent for work of a temporary nature such as processional banners, and in 1475 he became dean of the painters' guild. In 1478, he moved into the Red Cloister monastery near Brussels, presumably because he had a tendency to acute depression. In 1481 he suffered a mental breakdown and although he recovered, died the following year.

No paintings by Hugo are signed and his only securely documented work is his masterpiece, a large triptych of the Nativity known as the Portinari Altarpiece (Uffizi, Florence). This was commissioned by Tommaso Portinari, the representative of the House of Medici in Bruges, for the church of the Hospital of Sta Maria Nuova in Florence, and it exercised a strong influence on Italian painters with its masterful handling of the oil technique.