Getty's New Quentin Metsys Is Better Than "Salvator Mundi"
|Quentin Metsys, Christ as the Man of Sorrows, 1520s|
Meanwhile, with little fanfare, the Getty Museum has put on view a picture by Leonardo's Northern contemporary, Quentin Metsys. May I suggest it's a better painting?
Oh, sure. Metsys is not famous enough to rate a Mutant Ninja Turtle. But his Christ as the Man of Sorrows, purchased by the Getty last year, demonstrates how spectacular a Renaissance painting can be. Stripped of yellowed varnish, it's intense, cinematic, over the top.
|Leonardo da Vinci or studio, Salvator Mundi, about 1500|
Both paintings are rediscoveries. The attribution of Salvator Mundi was an upgrade. It had been thought to be a copy or workshop product (and some Leonardo experts insist it is). Curiously the attribution of the Getty painting is a downgrade. For over a century it had been ascribed to Rogier van der Weyden, the earlier and better known Netherlandish artist.
|Quentin Metsys, Ill-Matched Lovers, early 1520s|
|Leonardo da Vinci, Caricature of a Man with Bushy Hair, c. 1495. J. Paul Getty Museum|
|Studio of Leonardo da Vinci (Francesco Melzi?), Seven Caricatures, 1515. Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice|
|Studio of Leonardo da Vinci, An Old Woman|
|Quentin Metsys, An Old Woman, about 1513. National Gallery, London|
It had been taken as a given that Leonardo (the A-list genius) must have done the chalk drawing first. Then Metsys (a genius, second-rank) must have worked up the design into a painting. Recent scholarship proposes the opposite. Leonardo & Co. copied Metsys. The London painting is more detailed and strange; it includes the hands, which are difficult to draw and might be omitted by a copyist.
There is a theory that Metsys' painting is not a caricature but a likeness of a woman with an unfortunate medical condition, Paget's disease. I find the theory interesting yet somewhere short of a slam-dunk. The fancy dress and rosebud held over withered cleavage demand to be taken as a caricature of vanity. It's possible that Metsys was inspired by a Felliniesque woman (who may or may not have had a certain 21st-century diagnosis) and exaggerated her features and painted her in clothes that weren't hers. That's how caricature works.
|Still from Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, 2010|
|Quentin Metsys, Ecce Homo, c. 1520. Doge's Palace, Venice|
Metsys did other headshots of Christ. One, discovered in in 2006 in a British church, was sold for £1.5 million to finance the church's restoration. Another is owned by Jeff Koons. It's a 3/4 view with gold lines shooting through a yellow and blue aura.
|Quentin Metsys, Head of Christ. Jeff Koons collection, recently on loan to the Metropolitan Museum|