Flemish painting and De Jonckheere Gallery's old master paintings
In the wake of Herri Met de Bles, Lucas Gassel is considered as a landscape painter following in the tradition of Joachim Patenier and as being endowed with a...read more
In the wake of Herri Met de Bles, Lucas Gassel is considered as a landscape painter following in the tradition of Joachim Patenier and as being endowed with a resolutely modern vision. Just like many of his contemporaries, many aspects of Gassel’s life remain a mystery. The study of his body of work shows that the artist’s reputation evolved in the artistic milieu of the Netherlands as a painter but also as a draughtsman and as the author of engravings edited by Hieronymus Cock. This portrayal of Lot and his daughters in a chaotic landscape is a good illustration of Gassel’s artistic intentions: a faithful follower of the first landscape artists, while remaining at the forefront of the ideas and pictorial techniques of his day.
According to tradition, Lucas Gassel’s landscapes are always accompanied by scenes from the Old and New Testament. The episode the artist has chosen to paint here is taken from Chapter 19 of Genesis. The story begins in the towns of Sodom and Gomorrah, built in the Jordan valley, near to the Dead Sea. God wants to punish the inhabitants for their depraved behaviour. They will die in “a shower of fire and brimstone”. Abraham asks God to save his nephew Lot and his family. The one condition is that they must promise to leave the town before it is destroyed and not look back. God accepts and sends two angels to warn Lot and his family to leave the town. Lot, his two daughters and his wife take to the road. However, his wife disobeys and is immediately turned into a pillar of salt. As for Lot and his daughters, they find refuge in a cave. Afraid of seeing their father’s line disappear, the daughters plot to intoxicate their father so that he will make them pregnant. Much loved in the 16th century, this terrible story combining apocalyptic scenes and seductive games inspired numerous artists both in Italy and in Flanders.
The scene featured in the foreground is none other than the episode of seduction taking place between the eldest and her father; the younger one observes the scene and serves a drink. In the history of painting, several iconographies were retained to illustrate this theme, based on a typical cliché according to which the abuser blames his act on his victim. In all these portrayals, the theme of drunkenness is omnipresent, just like the idea of the end of the world, represented by the fires of Sodom and Gomorrah in the background. However, contrary to Lucas Gassel’s usual paintings, the biblical characters occupy the painting’s foreground. This arrangement is similar to the painting by Hieronymus Cock’s father, Jan. Kept at the museum in Detroit , the painting unfolds in a similar manner: the three protagonists are placed in the foreground, though more to the left.
In his landscape with Tamar and Judah , Lucas Gassel already reveals a strong taste for depicting couples. The three main characters here are painted with a rare refinement and their presence reinforces the painting’s dramatic intensity. Their attitude gives the painting a certain grace and a troubling uniqueness. The bodies are skilfully shaped with delicate nuances of colour. Lucas Gassel depicts Lot as a forward and lascivious man. He does not hesitate to embrace his daughter and his fingers stroke her chin. As an accomplished seductress, the latter reveals her generous breast and pink thighs. She is holding a goblet in her hands to intoxicate her father, while her younger sister holds a carafe. Their clothes bear witness to the painter’s remarkable skill at reproducing the movement of cloth, especially the folds in the young women’s dresses. Gassel introduces a bowl of fruit placed on a white sheet in the style of a trompe-l’oeil, undoubtedly to reinforce the idea of greed and pleasure.
But the painting’s source of interest is not simply limited to the characters: the magnificent panoramic landscape alone, looming behind them, deserves all our interest. Both peaceful yet wild, it can be considered as one of the painter’s greatest achievements. Endowed with a broad perspective, it reveals the different stages of the story of Genesis to the viewer. Our gaze is above all attracted by the celestial fire which can be seen on the horizon. This, of course, is the town of Sodom where Lot had vainly attempted to obtain the grace of God. The vehemence of the elements skilfully evokes the atmosphere of the end of the world which reigns over the landscape. The fire bursting out of the sky, with its red, orange and yellow nuances, bestows a force upon the whole scene worthy of Patenier.
The countryside allows the artist to provide the rest of the story with a bucolic framework. Towns and villages are painted with the meticulousness of his best drawings. The steep cliffs bear witness to elements inherited from the works of Herri Met de Bles, while the forest, which stretches the length of the hills, allows him to unfurl the whole range of greens, from the dark foliage to the serene meadows. This rural framework is also filled with references to the story. On several occasions, we see Lot and his daughters moving away from the catastrophe with the help of an angel. In the middle of the painting, fixed to the path just above the embracing couple, we can clearly see the white outline of his wife transformed into a pillar of salt. A relatively important place is also attributed to the tent where the crime will be committed. It is half open, thus symbolising the act. Split in two, it refers back to the two sisters. The binary element is also present in the two carafes which, besides serving as a reminder of the alcohol, symbolises the two wombs that will carry the line of the Ammonites and that of the Moabites.
With this landscape, Lucas Gassel offers us one of his most admirable paintings. The mannerist refinement of his characters, the intensity and the diversity of the colours, the enamelled aspect and his flowing lines, make this painting a particularly brilliant example of landscape painting in Flanders during the first half of the 16th century.
Circa 1480 Helmont - Brussels 1570
Lucas Gassel was born ca. 1480 in Helmont, a village situated to the North of Antwerp. He had lived in Brussels where he died in 1570. We know his portrait from...
Circa 1480 Helmont - Brussels 1570
Lucas Gassel was born ca. 1480 in Helmont, a village situated to the North of Antwerp. He had lived in Brussels where he died in 1570. We know his portrait from an etching by Wierickz, showing an already ageing man. A friend of the humanist Lampsonius, Lucas Gassel seems to have had a very wide culture with an in-depth knowledge in a great variety of domains such as geography, botanics and sacred history. He reportedly stayed in Venice, which enables us to surmise that he went to Italy, there to complete his artistic education.
His work belongs to a trend pioneered by Joachim Patenier, who described likewise panoramic landscapes; yet his broader vision encompasses a more diversified description of the universe, the scientific knowledge of which was increasingly established in the XVIth century. The ideas, scientific and philosophical, commonly debated in the highly intellectual circles to which Gassel belonged inevitably opened new perspectives to landscape painting itself, which subsequently came to express the contemporary dreams of mankind such as a longing for the unknown lands called to mind by the great navigators' discoveries, a new keen interest for topography fostered by the printing of illustrated books, cosmic or celestial speculations in tune with the new dimensions of the planet Earth: all events which had indeed a decisive impact on the development of landscape painting.
Lucas Gassel is an important figure of the XVIth century painting. His works are rare and very much in demand.