Jan Gossart’s Mannerism

April 30, 2015

Jan Gossaert (1478-1532), also known as Jan Mabuse, was a Flemish artist who developed an Antwerp Mannerism style; unique to only a few artists of the time. The Antwerp Mannerism had no direct relation to Italian Mannerism nor the widely demanded Renaissance artists of its time. “Gossaert reproduced these Classical models as a northern artist still rooted in the Late Gothic tradition: the proportions are elongated, the muscles treated in a highly detailed and ornamental way… ”

Compare two works; one by Gassart entitled A Portrait of a Man and the other by a Netherlandish painter titled Virgin and Child and explain how Gassart’s techniques were used in both works. The Portrait of a Man was one of Gossaert later works which had elements of new and bold brush strokes which straddled the traditional medieval world and the Renaissance. He showed sculptural skills clearly apparent after his visit to Rome. The replica, Virgin and Child, also showed elements of Gossaert’s Antwerp Mannerism style using strong and rigorous layers of paint to create a sculptural and dimensional image. With emphasis on light and shadow, blending of paint with small intricate brush strokes and composition Gossaert created a life-like and dimensional style to his later paintings.

Portrait of a Man was painted between 1520-1525. It is the only independent portrait by Jan Gossaert that is signed. In the painting, the man is turning left in a three quarter view with his eyes gazing towards the same direction as his torso. He stands in front of a dark background wearing a flat black hat with a golden sigil clearly visible due to the gold highlights. The picture’s tone is dark. He wears a plain grey cloak with black fur inner lining with the black strands of fur delicately lining the gray cloak. He holds a piece of paper loosely coiled in his big, pale hands. He wears a neat, darkish brown- toned shirt and it is darker brown where the sleeves are lined with flower- like patterns. His face, hand and the collar of his shirt are masterfully painted in pale white to contrast with the grey cloak, the man’s dark brown hair and the dark grey background. Due to this contrast between the use of light and dark color, Gassart carefully blends the oil paint between light and shade hitting the man’s face to create a heavy depth to the figure – almost like a sculptural relief. This can be clearly seen in his chin line, nose, and eye line. To add to this depth, he paints the man’s hair, eyebrows and beard stubble in individual small brush strokes.

Virgin and Child is a replica work of Gossaert’s lost portrait of Anna van Bergen, the wife of Adolf of Burgundy and their son Hendrik. They are portrayed as the figures of the Virgin and Child. The Virgin and Child was painted in 1522 by a Netherlandish painter and was masterfully painted in the Antwerp Mannerism style of Gossaert. The figure’s heads turn in a three quarters angle but their torsos and eyes turn towards the viewer but gazing beyond. Anna van Bergen, in this portrayal as the Virgin, wears a beautiful blue dress with a scoop neck which is decorated in layers of patterns. She and her son, Hendrik, stand in front of a red background and a painted Trompe l’oeil frame. The child also looks beyond the viewer and is dressed in a thin cloth which allows for his golden skin to reflect through. Under quick consideration, the painting is painted in much the same fashion as Gassart during the early 16th century. The body’s composition and proportion show clear understanding of the human figure and small, intricate details are present throughout the painting. Nonetheless, the replica by the Netherlandish painter has some elements which are not emphasized in the way Gassart would have done.

During 1508-9, Gassart visited Rome and explored methods of painting the nude human body, “…the experience of seeing Classical sculpture in vivid relief in the strong southern light resulted in an increased sense of volume in his drawings.” It is clearly seen in his later paintings which have a strong emphasis of light and shadow to create volume and depth to his paintings. Art historians claim that his work “Adam and Eve” reflects Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam with influence and study of the Italian master Michelangelo’s idea of sculptural relief. Both the Portrait of a Man and the Gossaert’s replica of the Virgin and Child has a sculptural appeal to the figures in a flat surface. This effect is mainly due to the use of light and shadow along with the composition of the figures. In the Portrait of a Man, there are areas which show high relief in the man’s skin. Gassart blends the pale skin colors with dark shadows to identify any natural features of the man. This includes the deep eye lines and big thick nose with the use of highlights and shadow. In comparison, the figures of the Virgin and Child replica share the same style of blending between highlight and its shadows. Their noses are dominant and so are their deep eye lines. The lines of the skin’s features has a white highlight but it is cut with a dark line so it’s easier for the viewer to distinguish each feature and this creates depth. In addition, it creates a sculptural relief effect in the painting. This effect is also seen in the fabric folds of the painting, especially the Virgin and Child, due to the gleam of white paint at the edges of the shape and with a sudden shift of a darker, common tone color. Curiously, the folds of cloth in the Portrait of a Man are less emphasized and there is little contrast between the highlights and shadows. Furthermore, there are fewer details and numbers of folds on the man, however this may be a trick in the composition to create depth to the portrait.

Gossaert’s brush strokes are bold and thick which is easily seen in the Virgin and Child replica, as well. It is either blended colors of light and dark features or fine individual strokes of paint. In the Portrait of a Man, the man’s skin is pale and the paint is blended neatly. An example of this technique can be seen in how Gassart painted the man’s hand holding the loosely coiled paper. The skin color is flat and pale yet it gradually shifts to a darker common color such as in the knuckles. In between these two clashes of paint, he blends in a grayish color. Because the paint is blended together neatly, the brush strokes make the image appear flat. This is where Gossaert’s small and fine one stroke of paint is used. A clear example is seen with his hair; such as his facial hair, eyebrows, and his beard stubble which are painted in almost a hatching style. The mix between blended colors and small individual brush strokes helps create depth to the painting. Likewise, the replica of Virgin and Child is painted in a similar concept of how Gassart would handle his paintings. However, the blends of color are not as sudden compared with how the Portrait of a Man was painted. The common colors are more stretched. The space between the blend of lighter to darker is wider. Also, there is a lack of the hatching style Gassart often applied to his paintings. The replica’s painter used the small individual strokes only on the strains of hair on the Virgin and Child. Although the replica shows deep understanding of Gassart’s work and applies the same concept of painting, this proves that no two artists have the same brush strokes.

Gossaert’s composition plays a main role in both of these portraits. Although the Virgin and Child replica was not painted by Gassart himself , the composition and the body figure remains similar to how Gassart would have originally planned it. Again, Gossaert’s later work shows depth through the use of paint and how it is applied through brush strokes. Another main element which creates the illusion of Trompe l’oeil is the composition of the figures. Both works are painted in the same style, yet are structured differently to create the same sculptural relief effect. The use of light and shadow is Gossaert’s strongest artistic trait. The Trompe l’oeil of Virgin and Child is created because the figures are front and center with a dark red background along with a frame behind the figures which forms a square halo from one shoulder of the figure to the other. The dress over-extends the frame as if it is spilling out of the painted surface. The Virgin and Child is garnished with lush color and is contrasted with the plain brown frame and dark red background. The illusion of light is cast upon the painted frame as if light is shining from the left and directly glistens from the figure and the right panel of the painted frame. The Portrait of Man applies the same aspect, as Gassart creates a dark tone to the figure along the top of a black background. Gossaert’s understanding of light and shadow highlights the man’s face and hand along with a similar pale tone of his collar that frames his face, while focusing less on the shadows of the man’s clothing.

In conclusion, Gassart artistic expression is renowned for creating sculptural- like paintings in his later works. He creates Northern European contemporary art but with Italian influences. His work Portrait of a Man in comparison with a replica of Child and Virgin share the same style and execution. Gassart paints his figures bold with highlights and shadows to create a sculptural relief effect in the skin. This also shows unique natural features of his figures. To compliment his bold use of light, the composition of the painting’s background is flat so that the viewer sees the figure as dominant in the painting. This effect is especially evident in Virgin and Child, where the painter paints the frame behind the virgin and child so both figures seem to over-extend out of the surface. Nonetheless, a careful eye can identify these two works of art as painted by different artist because of their brush strokes. No two artists have the same hand to create the exact same stroke of paint. Gossaert’s Portrait of a Man clearly has more sudden shifts of light and shadow along with more small intricate details in almost a hatching style. While on the one hand, the painter of Virgin and Child had deep understanding of Gossaert’s style and concept in his replica; on the other hand, the features of the figures are less boldly painted and there are no similar brush strokes to the hatching style Gassart has applied to his work. Gassart was a highly- regarded artist due to his mix of Northern European contemporary and the Italian arts. His bold artistic brush strokes are a direct link to his contemporaries. He learned and studied the Masters through his travels to practice and shape his unique Antwerp Mannerism style which influenced many future Masters to come in the 16th century.


Jacqueline Folie. “Gossaert, Jan.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press. Web. 28 Apr. 2015. <http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/grove/art/T033403&gt;.

“Portrait of a Man.” Metropolitan Museum of Art. MET Collection Online. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Web. 28 Apr. 2015. <http://www.metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online/search/436538&gt;.

“Virgin and Child.” Metropolitan Museum of Art. MET Collection Online. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Web. 28 Apr. 2015. <http://www.metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online/search/436539&gt;