Plastic, present – Abstracts


Netherlandish Sixteenth Century Sculpture



Marisa Bass

Enlivening–and mortifying–the Netherlandish Tomb: Genii and Transis in Sixteenth-Century Netherlandish Funerary Sculpture

This paper will examine the use of Netherlandish tomb sculpture through the perspective of genii that inhabit so many sepulchral monuments of the sixteenth century. Far from being one more classical motif, genii took multiples forms and frequently accompanied transi figures, thus frustrating any simple progressive history of the body in Netherlandish sculpture from “medieval” decay to re-emergent classical (or antiek) form. At the same time, a simultaneous engagement with genii and transi figures surfaces not only in the Low Countries but also in tombs produced within surrounding courtly and imperial ambits, suggesting the ways in which Netherlandish sculptors were participating in a larger international dialogue. I will query notions of sculptural enlivenment in Netherlandish tombs that harness both manifestations of the body. One question is the degree to which the writings of Netherlandish humanists like Gerard Geldenhouwer and others abetted the creation and design of monumental sculpture. I will focus on the pivotal Brederode tomb monument (c. 1545) in Vianen, executed by Colijn de Nole, as a particularly sophisticated exploration of the boundary between the eternity and ephemerality of life in stone, while also engaging with other key monuments from both inside and outside the Netherlands.


Tara Bissett

Sculpture and the ‘Idea’ of Architecture in the Low-Countries, 1500-1540

Architecture in the early sixteenth century—much like sculpture itself—was more a fluid notion than a coherent set of objects. The idea of architecture emerged as an abstract concept, quite distinct from practical concerns of the professions and from actual large-scale building projects. Although constituted across nearly all media, the most important class of objects that gave plastic presence to architecture was microarchitectural sculpture—sacrament houses, choir screens, tombs, and the like—a field situated somewhere between modern notions of sculpture and architecture. The craftsmen of these objects played an important role in establishing the architectural paradigm.  This broad understanding of architecture was hardly restricted to the rules of order set out in architectural treatises. Early publications such as Cesariano’s Vitruvius and Diego de Sagredo’s Medidas del Romano were, in fact, dedicated as much to carvers as to builders.

Since this architecture appeared principally as a series of fragments or as ornamental motifs, its assemblage could appear in any medium. Printmakers and painters were especially keen to show familiarity with the architectural idiom, and pictorial representations of architecture were often composed of ornament drawn from the microarchitectural palette. Yet microarchitecture itself gave the most compelling authority to these visions of architecture.

Krista De Jonge

Sculpture as Frame. Exploring the continuities between sculpture and architecture in the sixteenth-century Low Countries

In the Vasarian trias of the arts of disegno, sculpture and architecture are separate, albeit related disciplines (through their common ground in geometry). In the social history of the Netherlandish beeltsnyder of the early modern period, however, examples of stone cutters doing figural work and morphing into building masters are not uncommon, even if discussion about respective roles could lead to lawsuits in the turf war between guilds. The Vasarian framework of interpretation can thus be a hindrance when looking at the oeuvre of Netherlandish sculptors such as Cornelis II Floris de Vriendt. It actually obscures the view of an essential part of Floris’s work, neither “sculpture” (figural or ornamental) nor “architecture”, or indeed a continuum of both “sculpture” and “architecture”. The supporting structures of Frederick I’s tomb in Schleswig Cathedral and the framing of the sacrament tower at Zuurbemde, for instance, show a subtly differentiated treatment of “wall” and “pillar”, many surfaces actually remaining bare of ornament so that the main plastic effect is one of staggered planes, i.e. a play upon receding surfaces and projecting, pilaster-like (but without capital or base) elements; all of this partially hidden behind figures in the round. An obvious parallel may be found in the white marble “architecture” sunk between the pietra serena pilasters of the Sagrestia Nuova, Florence. Michelangelo’s inventive framing of the sarcophagi and figures turns out to be full of inventions subverting the original, antique role of ornaments such as disks and swags, combined with a subtly excavated wall surface. This type of analysis is no longer popular with historians of Renaissance architecture, with the exception of French scholars such as Jean Guillaume and in his wake, Évelyne Thomas and Catherine Titeux, nor is it very common with historians of sculpture, exceptions such as Michael Cole notwithstanding. In this paper, we shall explore the possibilities of theorizing the frame as a continuum between architecture and sculpture, starting from the aforementioned French studies of the decorative system of ornamentation of the wall surface, its elements and syntax.


Giancarlo Fiorenza

Paludanus, Alabaster, and the Erotic Appeal of Art in Antwerp

Willem van den Broecke, alias Paludanus (1530-80) specialized in small scale, exquisitely carved alabaster sculpture, In addition to treating a variety of religious narratives, Paludanus produced a body of statuettes depicting mythological subjects that invoke notions of love, beauty, and desire—Aphrodite and Eros, Aphrodite Drying Herself, and a Sleeping Nymph. This essay will investigate the sensuality and erotic appeal that these mythological sculptures must have afforded collectors. Paludanus refashioned figures from ancient myth and poetry—and even existing ancient statues—to invite an experience centered on the fascination of sensuous surfaces, the seductive properties of alabaster, and the desire to touch and possess the object on both a physical and emotional level. That his sculptures carried a beguiling and erotic power that eclipsed their status as commodities or vessels embodying the “look” and authority of ancient art is testified, in part, by the passionate investment afforded objects in the love poetry of his contemporaries Lucas de Heere and Jan van der Noot. In their sonnets De Heere and van der Noot discuss works of art, past and present, as well as lure of beautiful nymphs and goddesses, often invoking the Pygmalion myth to commend the ability of art and artifice to enthrall the viewer and instill desire. This expressive mode in relation to art, along with the emergence of an affective beholder in Antwerp, draws from a culture of courtly love (especially one cultivated at Fontainebleau by the poets of the Pléiade) and informs the making and reception not only of the works of Paludanus, but also the highly sensual mythological paintings of the Antwerp artists Frans Floris and Willem Key.

Sebastian Fitzner

Thresholds of Space, Time, and History. Netherlandish Portals of the Sixteenth-Century

Portals were, of course, not simply frames for the display of figural sculpture and heraldic signs. They were a form of microarchitecture that mediated the experience of the macro-structure that contained them. They were both barriers and apertures. Most obviously, they creatively marked the passage from exterior to interior space. But they also branded this transition as an experience of different times and histories. Passing beneath mottos of virtue, reliefs of celebrated deeds of the ancient Romans or Old Testament patriarchs, and anthropomorphized elements such as caryatids, those entering the chamber encountered the portal as a liminal space: transforming everyday experience into ritualized and socially coded behavior, but also impressing the beholder with the lessons of his/her life and those of human history. Certain portals encouraged a transition in the visitor from, at best, inattention to the honorable and ethical attitude of a Muscius Scaevola or an Abraham. The evolving antique architectural and ornamental mode played into this dynamic. In fact, certain portals can be seen as a kind of ‘anti-architecture’, opposed to their older, encompassing edifices and chambers.


Angela D. Glover

Habitus of the Body, Affordance of Design: Choir Stalls and Corporeal Space

Embodied experience was an inevitable aspect of the response to sculpture. This was especially true for certain genres of microarchitecture, most notably, choir stalls. As sites for communal prayer, song, and reading that took place daily over many hours, choir stalls shaped and were shaped by the human body. At the same time, the clerics interacting with stalls (and related works such as pulpits, jubés, and sacrament houses) had to learn to perform ceremonial actions, to change posture and bearing as the ritual progressed. I want to examine this reciprocal relation using two modern critical ideas: Pierre Bourdieu’s notion of habitus and Donald A. Norman’s concept of affordance. Affordance, somewhat less familiar, refers to certain properties of an object—those that determine the ways it can be used or the range of activities it supports. Both a simple bench and a choir stall ‘afford’ sitting, for example, but the particular configurations of the stall (its partitions and dimensions) rigidly restrict the pose of the body. Focusing on two Netherlandish examples, those in Dordrecht’s Grote Kerk and in Leuven’s Sint Geertruikerk, I will suggest how these ideas help us understand the workings of this type of sculpture and the ways in which contemporaries experienced it.

Koenraad Jonckheere

Media and Materiality

Sixteenth century altars were multi-media and multi-material objects in which architecture, sculpture, painting, weaving, metal work, and other crafts were combined. They are rarely discussed or studied, however, as such variegated objects. In the sixteenth-century Netherlands, when the materiality of art and religion was a highly discussed topic in the image debates, this multi-materiality was critical. The materials used for the representation of saints and biblical figures became an important focal point of theological and societal debates on art and forced artists to reflect on the materials of the objects they crafted. In this paper, I will explore the paragone of materials and techniques in sixteenth-century altarpieces from a theological point of view and explore how the highly contested medium of sculpture was addressed in the many protestant and catholic treatises on art, especially in relation to other media.

Aleksandra Lipińska

Mediality of the Netherlandish sculpture of the 16th century. A comparative perspective

I will be examining aspects of mediation relating to Netherlandish sculpture of the 16th century. Focussing on the genre of the altarpiece, I will discuss the ways this type of object communicates within its specific spatial setting and examine how various materials and techniques of execution contribute to its agency. I will address a prime example of the genre: Jean Mone’s Altarpiece of the Seven Sacraments in Halle. By comparing it both with its predecessors and with contemporary works at other sites, we can increase our understanding of the specific features of Netherlandish sculptural works that contributed to their success both in the Low Countries themselves and in other regions of Europe.

Kristoffer Neville

Cornelis Floris and the ‘Floris Style’: The Status of Authorship in Princely Tombs of the Baltic

I will examine a group of tombs in the Baltic by Cornelis Floris and other Netherlanders. This speculative essay addresses notions of authorship and the recognition of individual artistry, both in terms of the sixteenth-century culture and in the way in which later scholarship has viewed these properties. These monuments have long been recognized as major works in the region, key markers of the so-called ‘Floris style’ that dominated tomb sculpture at the time. Scholars have presumed that Floris and Antwerp stood at the center of a process of diffusion to a receptive group of princes outside the Netherlands. Yet the unusually full documentation for these commissions suggests that contemporary perceptions were not quite so clear. To what degree did these patrons seek out or recognize Floris as a distinct and superior creator? Was the sculptor’s participation predetermined? Did these commissions have to go to Antwerp, or were there other possibilities? Which characteristics were considered necessary in these tombs, and which were not? And how did these aspects help determine the choice of sculptor?

Ulrich Pfisterer

Conrat Meit, Erotic Images and Ideas about the Progress of Art

The 16th century saw the rise of highly eroticized images of male and female bodies south and north of the Alps. The new ‘naturalistic’ way of representation, the recovered antique models, and the changing demands and contexts for the display and beholding of sculptures and paintings all contributed the sudden increase of the erotic if not proto-pornographic. Conrat Meit and Peter Flötner in small scale sculpture, Jan Gossaert in painting, and the Beham brothers inr prints were early Northern protagonists of this development. In the second half of the century, Mannerist artists privileged this highly eroticised mode of representation. That Conrat Meit (and Jacopo de’ Barbari) moved from South Germany to the Netherlands reminds us that an explanation for this phenomenon should not be narrowly related to any one region.

This paper investigates the relevance of a hitherto rarely noted passage in Pliny’s Natural History, in which the ancient polymath linked progress in the visusal arts with the most explicit pornographic representations. The passage was taken up in sixteenth-century literature – i.e. by Pierre de Brantôme. Franciscus Junius later paraphrased the passage extensively in his treatise on ancient painting of 1637, published in Dutch translation in 1641. The 16th century interest in this passage and idea opens a new perspective to understand the interest and relevance of erotic/pornographic images (or at least their justification) beyond the dichotomy of moral reprehension and pure sexual arousal. This context also allows us to integrate and understand not only the increasing amount of small scale sculpture for art collectors and liefhebbers, but also ‘minor art forms’ – like sculpted goblets – which show some of the most explicit erotic images of the time.

Herman Roodenburg

Sculpture and Religious Sorrow in the Sixteenth-Century Netherlands

The Passion as represented in late medieval sculpture – the bleeding and mutilated body of Christ, his intensely sorrowful face, the swooning bodies and weeping faces of his mother, Mary Magdalene and the other holy women –did not manifest some ‘childlike universe’, as argued by Johan Huizinga, Erwin Panofsky and many others. They are first and foremost the product of a contemporary affective piety focusing on the humanity of Christ. Essential to this piety was a highly sensory rhetoric of emotion, suggesting co-presence (enargeia/demonstratio/evidentia), and a contemporary art of memory, grafted onto practices of meditation, rumination and bodily practices. The stronger the outer images, the stronger the inner ones. My paper will explore what actually happened to this affective piety in the sixteenth-century Netherlands. Which changes can we trace in the period’s devotional sculpture, in its portrayal of blood, tears or sorrowful postures and gestures? Contemporary devotional painting may provide helpful comparisons.

Frits Scholten

Statuas minores: 16th-century statuettes in the Low Countries, from devotional objects to collectibles

In 1598 the Utrecht antiquarian Buchelius described in his Diarium a visit to the art cabinet (‘musaeum’) of the Delft brewer Van der Houve. In the latter’s collection he saw many statuettes, statuas minores, by the sculptor Willem van Tetrode (c. 1525-1580). It marks a moment at which small sculptures had become sought-after collectibles in the Low Countries, even among citizens. During the 16th century statuettes gradually developed as an independent ‘genre’ and as a standard category in the northern Kunstkammer. While in the Late Middle Ages small scale sculpture almost exclusively formed part of religious ensembles or had been made for (private-)devotional purposes, the 16th century saw their transition from this religious context to collectibles in their own right. In my paper I shall investigate along which artistic and material paths this development took place between the late 15th and the early 17th centuries; from anonymous miniature devotionalia in ivory and boxwood to statuettes by the leading Amsterdam sculptor Hendrick de Keyser (1565-1621). The growing interest in the antyckxe Italianate style, the artistic contacts with Italy, and the declining popularity of ivory (in favour of boxwood, alabaster and bronze) were factors that seem to have played a role in this development.

Anne-Laure Van Bruaene

The sacramentshuizen in the Low Countries between devotion and iconoclasm

In this paper I want to explore the wider meaning of the sacramentshuis in the fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Low Countries and the sensory and physical reactions it solicited or provoked. My main sources are – besides the data available for the still-existing sacramentshuizen including the famous one from Zoutleeuw – descriptions of lost sacramentshuizen, data from church accounts, a limited amount of iconographical sources, and narrative descriptions of the iconoclast destructions in 1566 (known as the Beeldenstorm).


Henri Zerner

The Netherlandish Tomb as and index and vehicle of artistic exchange

The tomb of the high nobility served as an index of both local and pan-European design—and as a vehicle for the exchange of artistic ideas across territorial boundaries. News of paradigmatic monuments travelled quickly. Jean Perréal presented Margaret of Austria with the plans for his celebrated Tomb of Francis II of Brittany at Nantes. Netherlandish sculptors soon knew of the French royal tombs at St. Denis. The degree with which Michelangelo’s designs for the Tomb of Julius II made the rounds is an open question. This paper will address notions of genre, hierarchy, local function, and, above all, international exchange in considering the elite Netherlandish tomb of the sixteenth century.