Monday, January 25, 2010

Little Things Mean a Lot


















Jacob Cornelisz van Oostsanen, Crucifixion, 1507,
oil on panel, 37 ½ x 30 ¼ in. (95.3 x 76.8 cm),
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Looking at the Crucifixion panel by Jacob Cornelisz van Oostsanen in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I was reminded of the 1950’s popular song title, “Little Things Mean a Lot”.

Jacob Cornelisz van Oostsanen (ca. 1472-1533) was a Netherlandish painter and designer of woodcuts active in the early sixteenth century primarily in Amsterdam. He was a conservative artist. Although not an innovator, he was an able observer with an eye for details. His work has charm and lyricism.

The Metropolitan Museum Crucifixion is a crowded scene. Some fifteen figures, three on horseback, fill the foreground. Soldiers hold their weapons, finely dressed aristocrats stare, the Apostle John helps the fallen Virgin Mary, and Mary Magdalene kneels in prayer before the cross.

Many of those depicted are fashionably garbed as if the narrative gave the painter an opportunity to describe the riches of his contemporaries. The viewer gets caught up with the story – the crucifixion of Jesus and the reactions of those present.



















Jacob Cornelisz van Oostsanen, Detail of Crucifixion, 1507,
oil on panel, 37 ½ x 30 ¼ in. (95.3 x 76.8 cm),
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York



















Jacob Cornelisz van Oostsanen, Detail of Crucifixion, 1507,
oil on panel, 37 ½ x 30 ¼ in. (95.3 x 76.8 cm),
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Four relatively small angels, three of which are levitating about Jesus’s upper wounds, seem minor players in this drama. But wait. What are they doing? The angels are filling their chalices with the blood emanating from Jesus’s wounds. By their action, the central doctrine of Catholicism comes into focus – the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. The angels’s chalices that hold the blood allude to the chalice that contains the wine at Catholic Mass. Believers partake in the body and blood of Christ through the consecrated bread and wine and thus share in the sacrifice of the cross. These lovely angels that may seem insignificant are not so.


















Jacob Cornelisz van Oostsanen, Calvary,
c. 1507-10, oil (?) on panel, 40.9 x 34.6 in. (104 x 88 cm),
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Netherlands

I draw your attention to another crucifixion by Jacob Cornelisz in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. This work, entitled Calvary, includes in the background depictions of events that occurred before the crucifixion. The four chalice-holding angels can easily be lost among the forty-plus other characters. Their presence, however, is important.



















Jacob Cornelisz van Oostsanen, The Adoration of the Christ Child,
c. 1515, oil on panel, 38 3/16 x 30 1/6 in. (97 x 74.9 cm),
Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago,


The Art Institute of Chicago’s The Adoration of the Christ Child, attributed to Jacob Cornelisz van Oostsanen and Workshop, offers a happy encounter.















Jacob Cornelisz van Oostsanen, Detail of The Adoration of the Christ Child,
c. 1515, oil on panel, 38 3/16 x 30 1/6 in. (97 x 74.9 cm),
Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois

The individuated actions of the numerous music-making cherubs exhibit uninhibited joy. You can almost hear this painting!














Jacob Cornelisz van Oostsanen, Detail of The Adoration of the Christ Child,
c. 1515, oil on panel, 38 3/16 x 30 1/6 in. (97 x 74.9 cm),
Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois


There is much going on around the main event but don’t omit a look at the small distant figures that set the scene for the Adoration. These diminutive beings matter.

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