The magnum opus of Juan de Flandes in Spain

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Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
15 May 2024 Wednesday 10:36
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The magnum opus of Juan de Flandes in Spain

* The author is part of the community of readers of La Vanguardia

Juan de Flandes (Flandes, 1465 – Palencia, 1519) was a Flemish painter active in Spain. His career before 1496 is unknown, when his presence in Castile in the service of Isabella the Catholic is documented.

Of his work, we highlight the Polyptych of Isabella the Catholic and the Resurrection of Lazarus, currently in the Prado Museum. The Hispano-Flamenco style is characterized by its thoroughness and detail, accentuated by the small dimensions and the skill of the painters, who take advantage of the miniaturist possibilities of the oil painting technique. The color, line and volume are very balanced. All surfaces are treated with care, such as clothing, landscapes, skylines and architecture.

Little more than half of the 47 original tablets are preserved from the Polyptych of Isabel the Catholic. His style shows the artist's Flemish training, especially the work of Gérard David, and the incorporation of 19th century architectural backgrounds.

It was a portable devotional altarpiece, now dismantled, of which twenty-seven or twenty-eight panels of the forty-seven originals are preserved, where the cycle of the life of the Virgin and Christ took place.

It has been described as “the finest and most delightful illustrated Gospel known.” The kings themselves appear portrayed in one of them, among the characters who attend the miracle of the loaves and fishes. Since 2023, fifteen of the panels are exhibited in the Royal Collections Gallery (Madrid),

Among the preserved panels of this altarpiece, the scene of the multiplication of the loaves stands out, in which one of the female figures could be identified with Isabel the Catholic; the Temptation of Jesus, in which the devil wears a friar's habit; Dinner at Simón's House, whose architectural backgrounds include Renaissance details; and those of La Samaritana and Noli me tangere; The Vienna Museum preserves the panels of Christ on the cross and Calvary, from this altarpiece.

In 1505 he created the altarpiece for the chapel of the University of Salamanca, which Felipe de Vigarny had begun and of which only a small remainder remains with the figures of Saint Poland and Saint Mary Magdalene. For the hospital of the same University, he painted the Altarpiece of San Miguel. Another of his notable works is The Adoration of the Magi, in the church of the Palencia town of Cervera de Pisuerga, as well as those in the church of San Lázaro.

In 1509 he commissioned the main altarpiece of the Palencia Cathedral, a large-scale work, with the representation of the life of Jesus of Nazareth on twelve panels.

It is estimated that the work was carried out by Juan de Flandes between 1509 and 1518 for the main altarpiece of the Palencia Cathedral on behalf of Bishop Juan Rodríguez de Fonseca, one of the cities in which Juan de Flandes was active after the death of the queen Isabel la Católica, in whose service he had been.

This panel, intended for the central street, was flanked by a Calvary Path and a Burial of Christ. The Crucifixion remained there until 1559, when it was replaced by a carving representing Saint Antolín. Thanks to an inventory carried out in 1668, it is known that the painting was still in the cathedral, in 1944 it was acquired by Manuel Arburúa. It has been in the Prado Museum since 2005.

The painting responds to the oil on panel technique. The perspective adopted by the painter is that of a low point of view, together with the predominance of straight lines and the monumentality of the complex, reminiscent of Mantegna and giving it an Italian air. The landscape format helps the cross dominate the composition, around which the characters are situated in a semicircle.

On the left side he places the Virgin, the apostle John, Mary of Cleopas, and Mary Salome. On the right side, and in the foreground, is a soldier in armor, with his back turned. Behind the cross, and in a lower plane than the other characters, appear Mary Magdalene and two men on horseback. On the rocky platform in the foreground, before the cross, the painter arranges a series of elements with symbolic value: a bottle of ointment, alluding to Christ's redemption of man, some precious stones, which refer to Paradise accessible thanks to the sacrifice of Jesus; The skull and bones allude to the place of the Crucifixion, Golgotha, where some traditions also placed Adam's tomb.

On the other hand, the dry landscape, characteristic of the Castilian plains, also contains allusions to the texts that narrate the death of Jesus: the dark dark cloud, the birds, the joint presence of the sun and the moon. The painting reveals the great technical mastery of Juan de Flandes, evident in the pictorial quality of some elements, such as the jewelry.