Michiel Coxcie: The Flemish Raphael

michielcoxcie_tcm41-63485_289x0_0x0_0x0_0x0_true_true© Jan Gossaert & Michiel Coxcie, (rechter)vleugel van het Altaar van Sint-Lucas, Johannes de Evangelist © National Gallery Praag 2013

What? Exhibition Michiel Coxcie The Flemish Raphael

Discipline? Painting

Where? Museum M Leuven

When? 30 December 2013

In an age of over-boasted originality and creativity like today you will not want your talent to be shadowed by anyone, giant or genius. You’d rather be Andy Allo than Prince’s ex-girlfriend; call me Liam Gallagher and don’t you dare mention my brother Noel. But if we step back a little in the history of art, say about 600 years, you will find yourself secretly craving for the honour to be called after a great artist of the time. That’s why you may have heard of “the Flemish Raphael” but never remembered the name Michiel Coxcie.

But here he is, today, in Museum M. For the first time after his own time, all the major pieces of his artworks are collected to form an overview of the artistic career of our Flemish Raphael (I’d think he’d preferred to be called in this way). He was an artist true to the Zeitgeist of Renaissance. Paintings on canvas, frescos, designs for tapestries, illustrations and stained glasses, Coxcie displayed his talent on all the media possible and popular in his day. An artist of great versatility, you would say. I agree. But as I walked around in the exhibition halls, I couldn’t help but feel the uncanny sensation of déjà vu staring me square in the face. It was there in the composition of the human figures in Plato’s Cave; it was there on the Raphaelesque plump faces in The Holy Kinship. It reached its climax when i found myself confronted by the entire panel of Van Eyck brothers’ Ghent Altarpiece hanging up high on the cold white wall and solemnly welcoming the worship of modern day art fanatics instead of the faithful of the 16th century. It took a swipe of the audio guide to finally snap me out of this mesmerizing trance.

It turns out that Coxcie was this great emulator of his era. He received countless commissions from churches and private patrons to make copies of great artworks of the day. It might surprise us, but in those days, this kind of “copying” work was, in fact, considered as a great honour as it assumed great skills and refined techniques. In Coxcie’s case, he didn’t just shamelessly copy the masters that he admired. As a good artisan, he worked on his skills to make his imitation top of the range and at the same time he did not forget to make slight alterations that would bear his own signature. Honestly, it is not that easy to spot all those details when you have to crane your head and adjust its position according to the gentleman’s voice in your ear while at the same time racking your head to recall that iconic image you have seen in Sint-Bavo’s Cathedral. But it is a relief to know that Coxcie’s work of mimesis is more than what just meets the eye.

The Michiel Coxcie exhibition is still up and running in Museum M till 23 February 2014. As a culture card holder, you are entitled to a M-Bassadeur card which will allow you free access to Museum M including all its permanent collections and temporary exhibitions till 31 August 2014!

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