Sunday, 26 May 2013


“How poor are they that have not patience! What wound did ever heal but by degrees?” - William Shakespeare

Bernaert (or Bernard, or Barend) van Orley (b. about 1488 Brussels, Belgium, d. 1541 Brussels, Belgium), was Flemish painter of religious subjects and portraits and designer of tapestries and stained glass. His contemporaries (rather flatteringly) called him the “Raphael of the Netherlands” for his interpretation of Italian Renaissance ideas and forms. His first encounter with such compositions occurred when Raphael’s Vatican tapestry cartoons were woven in Brussels beginning in 1516.

Van Orley was the leading artist of his day in Brussels, becoming court painter to Margaret of Austria, regent of the Netherlands, in 1518, and to her successor Mary of Hungary in 1532. His work is characterised by the use of individually processed Italianate motifs. There is no evidence that he visited Italy, and his knowledge presumably came from engravings and from Raphael’s tapestry cartoons, which were in Brussels c.1516-19.

Bernaert van Orley was probably taught by his father. By 1517 he was a leading designer for Brussels’s thriving tapestry industry, master in the painter’s guild, and head of a large workshop. Van Orley created a theatre-like feeling in his paintings by assimilating Italianate architectural and figural motifs. Around 1525 he shifted his attention to towards tapestry and stained-glass design, including windows for the Brussels Cathedral. His presentation drawings for tapestries, by far the most numerous surviving examples of his draughtsmanship, depict the lineage of the House of Nassau, the Netherlands’ royal family.

In 1520, when Dürer visited the Netherlands, Orley gave a banquet for him, and Dürer drew his portrait. His best-known work is the turbulent Job altarpiece (Musées Royaux, Brussels, 1521). As a portraitist his style was subdued and more thoughtful. None of van Orley’s paintings bears a date later than 1530; after that time he was chiefly occupied with the decorative arts.

The “Calvary Altarpiece Triptych” illustrated above is an interesting example of van Orley’s personal style. The setting is conventional, but as well as showing some Italian influence, it draws heavily on the Flemish tradition. The Altarpiece is in the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk in Bruges, and dates from 1534. It was commissioned by Margaret of Austria originally for the funeral monument in the church of Brou in Bourg-en-Bresse in Burgundy. The side panels were finished much later by Marcus Gerards the Elder and brought to Bruges by Margaret of Parma, regent of the Netherlands under king Philip II of Spain. The central part represent the Calvary, the left panel the Crown of Thorns, the Scourging of Christ and Christ carrying the Cross. The right panel depicts the Pietà and the Limbo of the Just.

Among his most important paintings is the “Triptych of Virtue of Patience” (Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels), is also called the Job altarpiece, and was again commissioned in 1521 by Margaret of Austria to illustrate a poem she wrote about the virtue of patience. The interior panels represent the trials of Job, while the outer panels recount the parable of Lazarus and Dives (instead of the usual grisaille paintings of saints). This triptych is completely by the hand of Bernard van Orley. He must have been especially proud of his work as he signed it twice and added his coat of arms and twice his monogram BVO and the motto 'ELX SYNE TYT' (each his own time). This relates to his artistic opinion that an artist should be a man fully integrated in his time.

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