Portrait of a Merchant by Jan Gossaert

Portrait of a Merchant by Jan Gossaert (c.1530)

Today’s featured painting is by the a Netherlandish artist who was also known by his place of birth.  Jan Gossaert was born around 1478 in the town of Maubeuge  a town which now lies in present day France, from which his other name, Mabuse, derived.  He worked around Bruges in the early days and in 1503 was in Antwerp where he became a master in the painter’s guild.  Five years later he entered the service of Philip of Burgundy and travelled with him and his entourage to the Vatican.  In 1509 he moved back to the Netherlands to Philip’s castle in Middelburg where he remained until 1517.  In that year Philip was made Bishop of Utrecht and Gossaert went with him to Duurstede Castle.  Philip of Burgundy died in 1524 and Gossaert returned to Middelburg where he entered the service of Philip’s half-brother Adolf of Burgundy as court painter.  He spent most of his last days here and in the Zeeland area in the South West of Netherlands.   Jan Gossaert died in Antwerp in 1532 aged fifty four.

My Daily Art Display today is Gossaert’s Portrait of a Merchant, an oil on panel painting, which he completed around 1530 just two years before his death.   The painting belongs to the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC but is likely to be included in an exhibition of the artist’s work at the National Gallery, London in March 2011.

This work of art is termed an “occupational portrait” and were traditional forms of art at this time in northern Europe.  The subject of this work is believed to be Jeronimus Sandelin a businessman and later a tax collector in Zeeland.  In the foreground we see the businessman’s tools of his trade; writing implements, sealing wax, scales and a pile of coins.  Behind him are two sheaves of papers, one marked “Alrehande Missiven” (miscellaneous letters) and the other is marked “Alrehande Minuten (miscellaneous drafts)

As is the case nowadays, successful businessmen and bankers in those days were viewed with great wariness and mistrust even though they were a necessity of life.  Look closely at the expression on the face of the subject.  How would you describe his facial expression?  Is it an almost haughty arrogance in his look towards us?   Maybe it could be described as a furtive look.  On the other hand is his arrogant gaze a counter to his insecurity felt by many of his kind who were aware of their own unpopularity.

The sixteenth century Dutch humanist and theologian Erasmus questioned the morality of such businessman asking “ When did Avarice reign more largely and less punished

Sounds like something we would read in today’s newspapers !!!!!!