Unknown Flemish Master
Adoration of the Magi
Antwerp (c. 1516)
oil on panel
83 x 166 cm.
In comparison with other artistic centres, Antwerp had relatively little tradition in art in the beginning of the 16th century: but it was fertile ground ready to receive the seeds of new ideas brought by the many artists who flocked to the town on the Scheldt from other towns in the Low Countries. This burgeoning artistic life yielded religious works based on iconographic and compositional formulae derived from foreign examples.
Moreover, the Low Countries’ own traditional church based art had reached a crisis, and signs could already be seen heralding the advent of a different type of painting all together, with the birth of the Italian Renaissance. The economic and social revolution which transformed the needs and demands of art lovers resulted in a much looser relationship between artist and patron. Artists no longer felt obliged to bow to specific requirements as to the form or content of the painting imposed by the patron or institution commissioning it. Instead, they began to feel that their responsibility was rather to satisfy the tenets of taste held by nameless international artistic circles in which they moved. Thus an art market was created.
Artists began to specialise, made life easier for themselves by repeating certain motifs over and over again, and aimed to create a certain effect. The anonymous Adoration of the Magi is an admirable example of the most popular subject of these artists, who are known as the Antwerp Mannerists. Strutting vanity and late Gothic and Renaissance decorations are depicted in sharp contrast with quiet modesty.