Jan van HEMESSEN (c. 1500-c. 1575); Parable of the unmerciful servant.; 1548-1552; Painting; Ann Arbor. University of Michigan Museum of Art.; Netherlands.

DIVINE MERCY – ‘The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant’ by Jan Sanders Van Hemessen

We move from Florence to the Dutch Provinces. The unprecedented political, economic and religious changes of the late 15th century led to the rise of Antwerp, a Flemish city in modern day Belgium. Nicknamed the ‘Queen city’, it served as the mercantile hub of the land. Antwerp also boasted of a highly accomplished bourse that attracted bankers, financers, merchants and moneylenders from all over Europe.

Complementing its economic rise was its artistic growth. Its affluent cosmopolitan atmosphere attracted numerous artists. It encouraged them to lay hand and explore a gamut of new styles. Art was no longer solely religious. Surpassing narration it provoked interpretation.

One such thought stimulating artist is Jan Sanders Van Hemessen. A leading Flemish Renaissance painter, he perfected the art of genre paintings. What is a genre painting? Put into simple terms, it is an illustration of an everyday event wherein a mundane individual plays the protagonist. Art then was no longer ideal. Rather it was raw and real.

Hemessen also played an important role in the development of the ‘Mannerist inversion’ technique. The essential here was the background and not the foreground. While the foreground featured a secular setting, a scene at the background revealed the climax moment of the narrative. This about face approach is best executed in today’s painting.

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