- Date of Creation:
- circa 1470
- Height (cm):
- Length (cm):
- Art Movement:
- Created by:
- Current Location:
- Berlin, Germany
- Displayed at:
- Berlin State Museums
- Berlin State Museums
The Monforte Altarpiece is Hugo van der Goes' most celebrated work from his early career. Named after the town in which it was housed the Monforte Altarpiece could originally be found in a college that was home to a group of Spanish Jesuits.
Like the Portinari Altarpiece, the Monforte triptych was created on a large scale and today only the vast, horizontal central panel, featuring the theme of the adoration of the Magi, remains. The two wings from this work have been lost and a group of flying angels has also been cut away from the top panel.
Looking closely at the composition the Monforte Altarpiece depicts the Virgin, the baby Jesus and Joseph in the ruins of a Palace and shows them being discovered by the Three Kings and their followers. A gathering of local people watch this rare scene through a gap in the wall. The figures are all painted to the same scale, irrespective of their status and each person reacts in their own way to the event unfolding before them.
In the background a few more women can be seen as well as some cottages and a river, next to which the Kings' horses are positioned. In the foreground of the image, flowers and a pottery vessel are precisely captured. Above the villagers observing the scene a tiny squirrel runs along one of the beams.
The Monforte Altarpiece is Hugo van der Goes's central work from his early period and it shows him unleashing his imagination with regards to both the triptych's composition and they way he uses color.
The influence of preceding artists such as Jan Van Eyck and Rogier Van der Weyden is clear in the paintings' iconography; like Van Eyck, van der Goes' work is steeped in detailed realism and there is an epic construction of space.
Furthermore, his figures are also unified in a natural environment of light and shade. However, Hugo van der Goes' personality and artistic style is still distinct, even in such an early altarpiece.
Use of color:
As was characteristic of van der Goes' works at this time, he utilizes vibrant tones and mixes these with delicate shades to achieve the desired effect. Thus, he employed a warm palette and steered away from whites, silvers and gold in particular.
Use of technique:
The artist's early style was very different to that which he developed later on. In the Monforte Altarpiece the clothing adorning his figures is less decorative and does not serve to emphasize the forms of the body, the poses of the figures or their facial expressions, as he went on to do in later works such as the Portinari Altarpiece.
Moreover, the artist did not adhere to mediaeval tradition whereby a figures' size was determined by their social or religious status - instead, he treated nearly all of his figures in the Monforte Altarpiece the same.
The Monforte Altarpiece is a large-scale triptych which outshines the artist's other early paintings. Based on the theme of the Adoration of the Magi, it demonstrates the artist's talent in creating paintings on a surprisingly large scale, both literally and in the unique size of his figures.
After Hugo van der Goes' death a vast number of drawings were left behind, and based either on these or his paintings themselves followers made countless copies of compositions and imitations that have not survived from van der Goes' own oeuvre. Many of these copies were created by easel painters and makers of illuminated books. Paintings from his first two periods, including the Monforte Altarpiece, were most favored.
Thus, van der Goes' name has been mentioned in theoretical works and travelers' accounts throughout the ages and was not lost to posterity like so many Flemish artists.
For almost a thousand years Europe lay in the dark ages under a feudal society without any significant advancement. Sometime in the 14th Century Europe serfs were living as free men, the printing press was invented, commerce was taking off and new ideas arose.
With mobility, the rise of the merchant class led to an increase in ideas, philosophy, artistic advancements and scientific innovations.
North and South:
Old religious ideas were beginning to change again, especially in the north which would be home to the Reformation.
In Italy the Renaissance in architecture and sculpture had already taken off with the innovations made by Donatello and Brunelleschi. Insights in perspective and mathematics taken from the classics were being to show humanity in a new light.
The Renaissance would take hold across both sides of Europe, although fundamentally in different manners. Later, ideas from the north and south would mix and spur along further advancement.
To find out more about Hugo van der Goes, please choose from the following recommended sources.
• Dhanens, Elisabeth. Hugo van der Goes. Fonds Mercator, 1998
• Destree, Joseph. Hugo Van Der Goes. Librairie D'Art Et D'Histoire, 1914
• Destree, J. Hugo Van Der Goes. Unknown publisher, 2010
• Friedlander, M. J. Early Netherlandish Painting: Volume 4: Hugo Van Der Goes. Kluwer Law International, 1969
• Koster, Margaret L. Hugo Van Der Goes and the Procedures of Art and Salvation. Harvey Miller, 2008
• Vlieghe, Hans. Flemish Art and Architecture 1585-1700 (Pelican History of Art). Yale University Press, 1999