According to a legend documented in a written source only since the 6th century, Christian painting began with St. Luke, the author of the third of the four Gospels. He is said to have painted the first portrait of Mary, who posed for him, perhaps in the house of John. This is how countless painters’ guilds on both sides of the Alps got their name. Here Gossaert makes a striking change to the iconography that was customary up to this time: while the painter is still shown during a realistic, domestic portrait sitting, Mary is depicted as Queen of Heaven accompanied by angels in a religious setting of architecture inspired by contemporary Italian models. An angel as a symbol of divine inspiration guides St. Luke’s hand. Gossaert derived the name “Mabuse” from his hometown of Maubeuge, a small French city, today on the Belgian border. In 1503 he was mentioned for the first time as a master in the Guild of St. Luke at Antwerp. Four years later he vanished for a time without a trace. On 14 January 1509, he arrived in Rome, accompanying a diplomatic delegation led by his employer, Philip of Burgundy (the admiral of Zeeland and the illegitimate son of Duke Philip the Good). He remained in the Eternal City for several months, a period that he took advantage of by eagerly studying the sculpture and architecture of classical antiquity, as evidenced by a drawing of the Colosseum (Berlin, Museum of Prints and Drawings), among others. Probably he had the privilege of viewing works that Michelangelo and Raphael had created for the Vatican. After his return to the Netherlands, Gossaert successfully combined new and clearly foreign elements of Italianate style with local traditions, putting himself in the forefront of Dutch Romanism.
© Cäcilia Bischoff, Masterpieces of the Picture Gallery, Vienna 2010