Hugo van der Goes
(b. circa 1440, d. 1482), is considered to be the greatest Netherlandish
painter of the second half of the 15th century.
Nothing is known of
his life before 1467, when he became a master in the painters'
guild at Ghent. He had numerous commissions from the town of Ghent
for work of a temporary nature such as processional banners, and in
1475 he became dean of the painters' guild. In the same year he
entered a priory near Brussels as a lay-brother, but he continued
to paint and also to travel. In 1481 he suffered a mental breakdown
(he had a tendency to acute depression) and although he recovered,
died the following year. An account of his illness by Gaspar
Ofhuys, a monk at the priory, survives; Ofhuys was apparently
jealous of Hugo and his description has been called by Erwin
Panofsky ‘a masterpiece of clinical accuracy and sanctimonious
No paintings by
Hugo are signed and his only securely documented work is his
masterpiece, a large triptych of the Nativity known as the
Portinari (Uffizi, Florence, c.1475–76). This was commissioned
by Tommaso Portinari, the representative of the House of Medici in
Bruges, for the church of the Hospital of Sta Maria Nuova in Florence,
and it exercised a strong influence on Italian painters with its masterful
handling of the oil technique. There is a great variety of surface
ornament and detail, but this is combined with lucid organization
of the figure groups and a convincing sense of spatial depth. As
remarkable as Hugo's skill in reconciling grandeur of conception
with keep observation is his psychological penetration in the
depiction of individual figures, notably the awe-struck shepherds.
The other works attributed to Hugo include two large panels
probably designed as organ shutters (Royal collection, on loan to
National Gallery of Scotland). His last work is generally thought
to be the Death of the Virgin (Groeningemuseum, Bruges),
a painting of remarkable tension and poignancy that seems a fitting
swansong for such a tormented personality.
From October of 1916 through January of 1917, Rudolf Steiner gave a series
of nine lectures known as the Art Course. These lectures were given
the title of:
The History of Art.
Click here to discover what Steiner said about Hugo van der Goes in the
or in the entire