For Art Sunday today, Joachim Patenier (1485-1524), who was one of the great Old Masters of the Netherlandish Renaissance, and a pioneer of landscape painting as an independent genre, Joachim Patenier (Patinir, Patinier) became a master of St Luke’s Guild of Antwerp in 1515. Around 1520 he became close friends with Albrecht Durer (1471-1528), the famous German Renaissance draughtsman, who had a great respect for Patenier’s combination of acute naturalistic observation and innovative sense of fantasy, and considered him one of the best landscape artists of the age.
Patenier’s known output numbers some 20 paintings, none of which are dated and only five are signed. Consisting mostly of religious narrative paintings with panoramic views, the landscape element typically dominates the composition, with details of buildings, trees, peasants, hermits, holy families and even the occasional Christ, painted with a meticulous, high quality technique.
While following the tradition of Jan Van Eyck (1390-1441), Patenier seems to have been influenced by Bosch (his senior by 30 years) in the way in which he depicts landscape from a bird’s-eye view. As with Bosch, the figures in the foreground seem to be detached from their surroundings, the religious subject matter being only a pretext for the depiction of a marvellous world of fantasy.
Like a true Renaissance Man, Patenier directed his talents to landscapes at a time when the discovery of new lands and distant places was everywhere arousing passionate interest. Into his boundless universe Patenier puts tiny figures preoccupied with the familiar actions of their everyday lives. His pictures are full of naturalistic details. In “St Jerome” (Louvre) a little dog is shown leaping after a bird in flight, while in the background of “Rest on the Flight into Egypt” (Prado) the realistic details of the harvest are matched by the adoration of the god Baal, which serves as an excuse for the inclusion of fantastic edifices surrounded by jagged rocky cliffs.
Patenier’s imaginary landscapes re-create and bring together in one varied scene the natural elements of the countryside around Antwerp and the cliffs near Dinant, washed by the Meuse. But his fantastic rocky crags are also the legacy of a Christian symbolism, still widespread at the beginning of the 16th century. The aerial perspective of his compositions is designed in a succession of three coloured planes: Thus, in the version of St Jerome in the National Gallery, London, the eye is caught first by the saint’s blue robe standing out against the warm brown of the rocks behind him. A second plane, showing a valley between the rocks, is painted in cool luminous tones; and, finally, the eye comes to rest on the mountains in the hazy distance. Using a whole gamut of greys for the rocks and a delicate pink for the rooftops, Patenier emphasises this scheme with great subtlety. The tiers slip away towards a rather high skyline, a well-tried technique used by Bruegel and Hercules Seghers (1589-1638).
“The Crossing of the Styx” (seen above, also known as “Journey Into the Underworld”, in the Prado) is a “history painting” that stands apart from the rest of Patenier’s work, which is generally serene in mood. In depicting the medieval idea of the ‘chosen’ and the ‘damned’ Patenier created a surprisingly secular picture in which, between a celestial kingdom in the tradition of Van Eyck and a flaming inferno reminiscent of Hieronymus Bosch, a vast, deep-blue river stretches as far as the eye can see towards new horizons. Equally striking is the violent expressionism of “The Burning of Sodom”, painted in browns and reds, with its phantasmagorical rocky crags grouped against the background, without regard to the rules of perspective.
Regarded today as an important figure in Flemish painting, his best known works include: “The Rest on the Flight into Egypt” (1515, Koninklijk Museum, voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp; and Prado); “The Baptism of Christ” (1515, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna); “Temptation of St Anthony” (Prado); “The Penitence of St Jerome” (1518, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York); “Journey Into the Underworld” (1522, Prado); and “The Sermon of John the Baptist” (Musees Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels.
Patenier is seen as one of the most creative Northern Renaissance artists, whose work acts as a bridge between Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516) and Pieter Brugel the Elder (1525-69).