Cornelis van Cleve    Early Netherlandish      1520-1574
SN 201    Oil on Panel    About 1540

by Robert Anderson

    Cornelis was the son of the illustrious Antwerp artist, Joos van Cleve, with whom he collaborated in his father's last years. The influence of Italian artists suggests that he visited Italy in his youth, however, reliance on Italian art was representative of much Flemish painting by 1540. Cornelis was not very successful in Antwerp and emigrated to England in 1555 where he attempted to establish himself as a portraitist. Failing in this he became insane and was returned to Antwerp to the custody of his son.
    Cornelis'works date from 1540 to 1555 and include devotional scenes - mostly for private use, such as "Virgin and Child" and the "Adoration of the Magi". His work does adhere closely to the same northern renaissance and manneristic tendencies as that of his father, Joos van Cleve but his colors are more mettalic and brilliant.

    The subject is the unveiling of the Christ child by Mary, his mother.

    This Ringling painting, set in some grandiose ruins, is a mature work of the artist as it accords with other paintings that belong to Cornelis' late activity ( ie. "Adoration of the Shepherds" and "A Virgin and Child"). It is a paraphrase of a painting executed by Raphael's studio around 1510 ( " Madonna of the Diadem").
    "Nativity" achieves a striking originality, however, thru the Virgin's pearlescent flesh tones and the languorous Christ child. The Madonna is beautiful and serene and the Christ child amusingly self confident. It is apparant from the noble profile of Mary that Cornelis fully comprehended the discipline of Raphael as well as Leonardo's palette and sfumato, or haze, which softens the contours.
    This was a period of great tension in Northern Europe due to the Protestant Reformation and it's attacks upon the Catholic Church. Antwerp was a Catholic area under the control of Spain and the Protestant leanings of Cornelis - living in Antwerp - might well have been a reason for his lack of success in Antwerp and his emigration to England as well as, indirectly, his mental illness.