It’s May the 6th and the first Friday of the month.
Today is 531 years since the death of Flemish painter Dieric Bouts, aged 60.
Dieric was born in 1415 in Haarlem, the capital of Northern Holland, nowadays only a 15 minute train ride from Amsterdam. These were uncertain times for the Dutch, Haarlem was put under siege in 1428 by the army of Countess Jacqueline of Hainaut. Hainaut was originally a German province, it is now part of Belgium.
The “Hook and cod” wars was a series of battles for sovereignty that occurred between waring factions in Holland and between differing cities and social groups right up until the 1490’s. Dieric grew up in the midst of these troubled times.
Although not much is known about his life, at some point Dieric Bouts moved from Haarlem to Leuven in Belgium. The largest and now the oldest University in the Low countries was founded in Leuven in 1425.
It’s possible that he studied under the painter Roger van der Weyden before leaving Haarlem. What is known is that he married the daughter of a merchant in Leuven in 1448 and his name appeared in the town registers from then on as its’ “official painter”.
The earliest dated painting by Bouts is “Portrait of a man”, inscribed with “1462” on the wall behind the sitter. It is the earliest surviving Netherlandish portrait to include a view through a window. The subject-Jan van Winkle was a made a Notary to the Conservator of Leuven University, so this was probably painted to commemorate the occasion. It now hangs in the National Gallery, London.
There are also some very rare examples of paintings on linen that still survive ( most artists of this period used panel). Bouts was one of the first of the Flemish artists to use vanishing points in his composition, he also stuck to the 15th century tradition of rarely dating or signing his work.
Bouts remains a founder of the Northern tradition, sometimes even called the “Northern renaissance” of painting. He died in 1475, his two sons who survived him became important painters in their own rights, carrying on his style and influence.
His work gives intriguing insights into late medieval ways of thinking and observation. Take a look at some of his contemporaries too– Robert Campin, Roger van der Weyden and Quentin Massys. Behind their subjects there is often an interesting item of furniture, a prop or item of dress, even a reflection in a mirror ( Jan van Eyck…).
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