European Art: 14th-16th Centuries

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Resurrection, c. 1455

Dieric Bouts

Flemish, c.1420-1475
Distemper on linen
35-3/8 x 29-1/4 in. (89.9 x 74.3 cm)
The Norton Simon Foundation
F.1980.1.P
© The Norton Simon Foundation

On view

One of the leading Northern European artists of his generation, Dieric Bouts favored a contemplative approach to painting that embodied an austere, powerful spirituality. As Christ rises from the tomb, the drama and theatricality of the moment are stilled by His serene yet intent gaze and by the lyrical landscape background. The scene unfolds in front of a wide, placid expanse of land, depicted with a sure-handed knowledge of luminous, atmospheric perspective. Successful and revered in his lifetime for his approach to landscape painting as well as his half-figure images of the Madonna and Child, the Haarlem-born Bouts oversaw an active workshop in Louvain after the 1440s—that is, for the majority of his career. His work draws from a variety of Northern and Southern Netherlandish predecessors, most notably Jan van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden.

The Resurrection belongs to a now-dismembered four- or five-part altarpiece that tells the story of the life of Jesus. Other pieces of the original ensemble are now at the National Gallery in London (The Entombment) and the Getty Museum in Los Angeles (The Annunciation). Like pastel, the medium—distemper on unprimed linen (in German, tüchlein)—is inherently delicate and its colors fugitive, which makes it all the more extraordinary that this early canvas has survived in such a remarkably well-preserved condition. Now discolored from hundreds of years of exposure to light and dirt, the sky was originally a colorful display of pinks and blue, still evident along the upper border where the canvas was protected by a previous frame. The same pattern is apparent in its companion picture at the London National Gallery.

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