Klaas Verplancke

Klaas Verplancke's selection

Few illustrators can offer work that is so varied as that of Klaas Verplancke (1964). Since 1990, he has published more than 140 books and countless free-standing contributions in newspapers and magazines, with many prints for all ages: from toddlers to adults. This includes publications both in Flanders and abroad. The thread that runs throughout the illustrations is the combination of craftmanship and creativity, supplemented by a perennially recurring sense of humour. Klaas' work appears in more than 40 translation and is lauded nationally as well as internationally, with inter alia, the prestigious Ragazzi Award in Bologna. Klaas freely allows himself to be inspired by his work through an extensive art historical acumen. Quite often his work contains nods to the 15th-century Gothic painting. Klaas declared himself willing to commentate on his favourite Flemish Primitives for the VKC. More info at: http://www.klaas.be

 

1. Judgment of Cambyses

 

Gerard David

Groeninge Museum Bruges

              

The immense cruelty that squarely rests on the emotional distance makes this painting one of the most haunting images that I have seen in years. All emotions are dismanteled in order to make as much room as possible for the story, a rock-hard life lesson on perserverance.
Even amidst the contemporary surprsing and unnuanced image culture, the directness of this painting is especially confronting. The gruesome scene on the right panel plays out during a frigid silence, but is bathed in warm and soft earth tones. The torturing transforms into a bloodless operation and the perfection which with this is painted, makes one think on a didactic piece that belongs rahter in an anatomy lesson than in in a museum.
All the unreal contrasts make it that this image contines to cling to my retina. It is the same duality that I also see in the small justice panel of the Altarpiece of St. Nicolas.

2. Altarpiece of St. Nicolas

 

Master of the Legend of St. Lucia

Groeninge Museum Bruges

             

This altarpiece reads like a storyboard with a high narrative content. My attention is drawn especially to the panel to the top right, because the atmosphere and the dualism in this image shows a great likeness to Gerard David's Judgment of Cambyses. Here too, in essence a horrible scene changes into an emotionless theatre with wooden actors in a warmly coloured decor. The death of the three children is executed without any hint of passion. In the technical delivery, a few contradictions and faults creep in that are disarmed by their candour: the perspective of the tiles stands on the unrreal point from out of which the bed is painted. The fine reproduction of texture and lighting effects are in sharp contrast with the clumsy anatomy of the hands and the rigid choreography of the folds.

3. Christ Carrying the Cross

 

Jheronimus Bosch

Museum of Fine Arts Ghent

                                                                                    

In the middle of the busy, noisy crowd stands a modest Jesus praying for strength to be able to bear the cross. It is just that contrast that makes this figure so alone amongst the people who pay no attention to the suffering man. The tension is heightened by the hideous mugs that circle around the head of Jesus like devils. The evil threatens the good. Only the beautiful Veronica, lower left, brings comfort and hopeful light to the somber panel. More than a mere part of the way of the cross is this ‘death row' an inescabable icon of collective madness versus total solitude.

4. Last Judgment

Jheronimus Bosch
Groeninge Museum Bruges

                         

All typical Bosch trademarks and symbols are present in this allegorical and macabre ‘Cirque de la Condition Humaine'. It is the all-encompassing report of a time in which men danced in the shadow of the gallows and the unbearable lightness of the hard existence always ended in paradise, or otherwise inferno. There was no other choice for God who ponders, weighs and decides.
Between life and death there was little room. The angels and the devils wait on the corner and thus Bosch paints Heaven and Hell as an earthly tableau. With a bit of sarcastic compassion he makes Hell a burning warzone where the strongest can still postpone death.

5. The Seven Sacraments

Rogier van der Weyden
Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp

             

There exists a greater contrast between the emotional tension of Rogier van der Weyden and the coolness in Gerard David's Judgment of Cambyses. The hypnotic perspective sucks you into the space in the life that in seven sacramental steps glides by from left to right, and ends in the wooden framing and the arches that hang as a roof above the work. Van der Weyden captures the time in a scene on three panels that he connects with each other by the depth behind and creates a optical unity. High above the colourful life hangs, in the middle of the grey, a solitary Jesus. The weeping women at the foot of the cross are shrouded in a sea of gracious folds, which accentuates their sorrow, passion and movement.

6. The Painter and his Wife

Master of Frankfurt
Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp

                         

This is a relatively small, yet fine little painting with a charming naïve touch because of the lightly distorted anatomical proportion. A few semantic details (coat of arms, violins, furniture, ring, ...) provide information about the the standard of living and the painter's occupation of the man who looks the viewer determinedly in the eyes, while the woman shows a violin with a serious look. A self-portrait from this time period is exceptional, and a double portrait on one frame is all the more so. But what makes this little work special for me are the two flies that have landed on the plate with cherries and the white cap of the woman. Whoever looks closely sees that the two insects are painted on top of the tableau. It is as if the painter wants to convince us of his craftsmanship and the lifelike quality of his work with this humourous trompe-l'oeil. It is so real that even the flies are mistaken. The 3D illusion is even stronger by the tabletop that appears to rest precisely on the lowest edge of the frame.

7. Legend of St. Ursula of Cologne

Master of the (Bruges) Legend of St. Ursula
Groeninge Museum Bruges

                        

I select this work because I view this as a primary example of a captivating, sequenced art of storytelling: a prototype of the comic strip or graphic novel. It is a wordless, yet perfectly readable and precisely told story of images. Main characters, continuities, changing decors and perspectives are harmonically brought together by a consistent image style and colour palette.

8. Madonna Surrounded by Seraphims and Cherubims

Jean Fouquet
Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp

                               

This is an especially intriguing and atypical painting that by the usage of colour and the styling nearly looks modern. The Madonna and the child seem to be chiseled out of marble and the cool white is made even stronger by the contrast of the red and blue angels in the background. Between the two frozen protagonists there is no eye contact or interaction. Compare this with the Madonna and Child (Madonna Duran) that Van der Weyden painted in the same period. Mary is shrouded in a warm red, and bowed devotedly to her child who leafs through a book. Two figure of flesh and blood.
It is fascinating and illuminating to see how two artists execute the same subject at nearly the same time and within the same governing iconography in a totally different way. It is a perfect reflection of two creative personalities.

9. Mount Calvary

Antonello da Messina
Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp

                     

 

There are countless versions painted of Jesus's crucifixion and death, but some have a rhetorical impact that does not let you go. With figurative art I quickly have the tendency to want to just about physically step into the work. Then I feel the cold, dead still in the brackish colours and the nuanced airt that the image gathers together for one half and pushes away the three crucified men from each other.
Compositionally this painting is also intelligently constructed. The figures leaning back on the left and right open the image above, heavenward. The movement and waving in the two truncated trees are an extension of the convulsions of dying murderers. In their contorted movements the sufferings and the struggle against death blisters, a strong contrast with the serene composure of Jesus, and Mary and John at the foot of the cross.
The many semantic details (the skull, the serpent, the owl, ...) in the foreground, and the twig and stump behind the cross, are indications of death and salvation.

10. St. Barbara of Nicodemia

Jan van Eyck
Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp

                                          

In a top 10 of Flemish Primitives, Van Eyck cannot be left out. His work and influence are undisputedly in the cultural heritage of humanity. His paintings are world-famous icons and thus lesser-known studies such as this are interesting because they give us an insight into the more fragile, searching master painter. It remains a guesswork if this is a grisailee or a pre-study. Apart from that, this work shows that Van Eyck's inimitable painting technique, splendour of colour and finesse does not have to give us an overwhelming demonstration of his craftsmanship and talent to crystalise a complex and gruesome story of a saint into a powerful image.