Flemish painting and De Jonckheere Gallery's old master paintings
Provenance: private collection
The subject of this little copper panel depicting the rest on the flight into Egypt, is merely a pretext for painting a wide landscape with forests and river, which...
Provenance: private collection
The subject of this little copper panel depicting the rest on the flight into Egypt, is merely a pretext for painting a wide landscape with forests and river, which displays the preromantic accents characteristic of the influence of the Frankenthal School. Buildings in ruins and tufted vegetation are recurrent elements in the mannerist landscapes produced by this school. Mirou gradually underwent an evolution towards realism without abandoning this characteristic lyrical spirit. The clearly structured composition with a foreground, a centre and a background as well as a high horizon line indicate his attachment to the tradition of the landscape painting of the Sixteenth century.
On each side of the two large trees which frame the composition, acting as depth-creating elements, Mirou constructs a sweeping serpentine vista into the distance around the bends in a river that widens into a vast natural harbour surrounded by the structures of a large city that can be discerned at the end of the far valley. Although the foreground provides the artist with the setting for the religious theme of the title, it is likewise rendered with a naturalistic realism, and an anecdotal character full of charming, lifelike detail that anchors the scene firmly in the realm of the prosaic.
At the left-hand edge, two pack donkeys are led by a figure beyond the visual scope of the picture. At the edge of the road they follow, beyond which opens the perspective onto the valley, there is a peculiar kind of still life made up of the remains of an animal skeletons. Klaus Ertz pointed out that this motif recurs in several works by Mirou's contemporary, Jan Brueghel the Elder. The meaning of these cattle skulls and bones in the context of these religiously-themed landscapes is obvious enough. In this particular case, they may be regarded as a symbolic memento mori. In any event, Mirou captures the highly domestic atmosphere of a village going about its daily affairs.
It is interesting to consider the originality with which the light effects are handled. By juxtaposing brilliantly illuminated areas with dark zones, and back-lighting large masses, intense contrasts are formed, enriching the spatial effects. On the other bank of the river the painting shifts into a brighter composition, bathed in light, with a palette of pink, brown and ochre. This luminosity transcends the supernatural character of the group of figures in the foreground. While the shepherd leaning on the wall of the central house appears to be paying more attention to the convoy of pack donkeys than his own herd (the artists could hardly resist a nod to the pastoral symbolism ready at hand) who graze at the water's edge; two women approach a pair of travellers.
Riding on a donkey, Mary, holding the baby Jesus, is approached by two other women. Joseph, who leads the way, turns to witness the scene. Behind them travelling on the same road but coming from the opposite direction, two elegant horsemen disappear into in a dense mass of woods in shades of green, in which the vegetation merges with the capricious rocky formations. The corner of forest that appears to thrust forward at the right, with its picturesque accent of the building in ruins shows a somewhat dramatic approach to the vegetation, providing the scenery for the rest on the flight into Egypt. Mirou's palette is darkened here, as if to better render the protective shield that nature provides the holy family.
1570 - Antwerp - After 1661
Antoine Mirou is one of the painters who worked alongside Gillis van Coninxloo at the artists' colony at Frankenthal in the Palatinate. Few details of his life are...
1570 - Antwerp - After 1661
Antoine Mirou is one of the painters who worked alongside Gillis van Coninxloo at the artists' colony at Frankenthal in the Palatinate. Few details of his life are known. The date and location of his birth does not appear on any document. His parents, Hendrik Mirou, a pharmacist, and his first wife, settled in Frankenthal in 1586. They were among the Calvinist emigrants who fled the Netherlands after 1562 in order to join Frederick III of the Palatinate. In 1602, Anton Mirou married Susanna Coninxloo, the daughter of Jasper Coninxloo. They apparently had no children. There is no mention on any document of any educational tour made by the artist, to Italy for example. It is possible that he stayed for a time in Bad Schwalbach near Wiesbaden in the Taunus; such a sojourn is indicated by a drawing in the Munich prints gallery, an engraving made in 1620 by Matthäus Merian and twenty-six views of the site engraved after the work of Antoine Mirou.
In 1620, the artist's presence in Frankenthal is documented for the last time. He probably left the city not long after that, since in 1623, it fell to the Spanish. It is not known where Mirou settled after this. A Landscape with hunter (Staatliche Museen in Berlin, Gemäldegalerie) is on display in Berlin, signed and dated 1653. It is quite certain that the painter was Mirou. The literature also mentions a landscape signed and dated 1661 in the Picture Gallery in Parma. If the latter painting is indeed authentic, Mirou appears to have lived for at least ninety years. Very little is known of his life and his work has practically never been the subject of scholarly investigation. The paintings of Mirou were influenced by the landscapes of Gillis van Coninxloo and Pieter Schoubroeck (around 1570-1608). Currently available data suggests that the artist treated only a few themes in his work: wooded landscapes characterised by dense trees filling the entire surface of the painting as well as scenes of lively village streets nestled in a rocky landscape. Around 1620, the village scenes begin to become increasingly sparse; they begin to be oriented more towards reality, as demonstrated by the depictions of Bad Schwalbach.