Michiel Coxcie in the Netherlandish Romanesque Circle

In the 16th century, Rome attracted artists from the North with a series of discoveries of ancient works, as well as with works of the Renaissance masters – Raphael, Michelangelo and Leonardo. This fascination brought a trend in paintings known as the Netherlandish Romanesque. Its sources were of two kinds.
The first source was the migration of artists from the North to the Eternal City: “(...) because he who has not used up a thousand quills and paints, has not painted over a thousand boards in this school [in Rome – ed.] is not worthy of the honourable title of a true artist”, Jan van Scorel is believed to have said. Many years of studies resulted in artists assimilating the Italian repertoire. This allowed them to achieve the high style based on a study of works of antiquity which, combined with the tradition of realistic paintings of the Netherlands, created a specific variant of northern Mannerism. A pioneer of those artistic pilgrimages to Rome was Jan Gossaert, known as Mabuse, who came to the Eternal City with Philip of Burgundy in 1508. Others followed his example, including Jan van Scorel, Pieter Coecke van Aelst, Jan Sanders van Hemessen, Michiel Coxcie and many others.
Italian patterns spread to the Netherlands also in another way: through copies of works from Italy, drawings and engravings. The best example of this kind of impact was given by works of Bernard van Orley, who had never been to Italy, yet his works revealed the influence of the Italian masters. For this reason, he was also categorised as belonging to the group of Netherlandish Romanist artists. Van Orley was an artist promoting the Italianising style in paintings; he also worked as the main cartoon designer of  tapestries workshops in Brussels. His knowledge of Raphael’s works had local sources. Van Orley came across cartoons made by Raphael for a series of tapestries intended for the Sistine Chapel, which Pope Leo X had commissioned in the Brussels workshops (Acts of the Apostles series, 1515–1516).

Raphael (pr Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino), Miraculous catch of fish, a cartoon to the series of tapestries Acts of the Apostles, 1515, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, source: Wikimedia Commons, public domain

Works of Michiel Coxcie can be in a way located at an intersection of these two sources of inspiration. He was born in Mechelen in 1499, and he learnt in the workshop of Bernard van Orley. Therefore, during the first period of his art education he was instilled with principles of the Italianising school, which at that time was based on mediated knowledge of Italian formulas, including Raphael’s cartoons, popular in Brussels. Michiel Coxcie complemented his studies with a journey to Rome, where he stayed during the years 1530–1539. In the Eternal City, he had an opportunity to familiarise himself in situ with works of the masters of the Italian Renaissance and assimilate the entire repertoire of formulas applied at that time with respect to composition, arrangement of figures and studies on the human body. Well-known Italian works of this artist include, for example, the frescoes in the chapel of Saint Barbara in the Church of Santa Maria dell’Anima, made in the years 1532–1534, commissioned by his countryman, Cardinal Willem Enckevoirt, or strongly Raphaelising engravings with the story of Cupid and Psyche.
Michiel Coxcie was called “Flemish Raphael” by his contemporaries. In his paintings, he used numerous references to Roman works, due to which he acquired a reputation as an excellent compiler of Italian patterns, although his works were not devoid of a strong creative initiative of the artist himself. Aside from inspiration by Raphael, his works show noticeable strong references to such artists as Perino del Vaga and Baldassare Peruzzi, as well as to works of Leonardo and Sebastiano del Piombo, but primarily to his teacher – Bernard van Orley. Having returned to the Netherlands, Coxcie was very active in his professional life – after the death of Pieter Coecke van Aelst, he became the main cartoon designer of the tapestries workshops in Brussels. In Poland, he is mainly known as a supposed (and most likely) author of cartoons to three series of tapestries with scenes from the Book of Genesis from the collection of tapestries of Sigismund Augustus, which are a part of the collection of Wawel Royal Castle.

Elaborated by Paulina Kluz (Editorial team of Małopolska’s Virtual Museums),
Licencja Creative Commons

 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland License.

Bibliography:
Hanna Bensz, Niderlandzcy romaniści: Antwerpia, Bruksela, Haarlem (Romanists of the Netherlands: Antwerp, Brussels, Haarlem) [in:] Transalpinum. Od Giorgiona i Dürera do Tycjana i Rubensa (Transalpinum. From Giorgione and Dürer to Titian and Rubens), Dorota Folga-Januszewska, Antoni Ziemba (eds.), Warsaw 2004;
Ryszard Szmydki, Elementy batalistyczne w twórczości Michiela Coxcie z lat 15491550 (Battle elements in works of Michiel Coxcie of the period 15491550), [in:] Amicissima. Studia Magdalenae Piwocka oblata, Kraków 2010, pp. 153–158;
Id., Pierwsza wystawa monograficzna Michiela Coxcie (14991592) (The first monographic exhibition of Michiel Coxcie (14991592)), ”Biuletyn Historii Sztuki”, 76 (2014), no 1, pp. 165–170.