Geertgen tot Sint Jans
The Tree of Jesse
oil on panel
89 x 60 cm
The image on this small panel is a weave of visual information that is not easy to grasp for the eyes.
Pictured here is Christ’s family tree. It grows out of the sleeping figure of Jesse, forefather of the line of kings that included, according to tradition, Salomon, David and Jesus. The branches are filled with the kings of Israel, among them King David with his harp. At the top, the Virgin is enthroned with the Christ Child on her lap. Some figures radiate devotion and without exception, all figures seem sympathetic and have a sweet appearance.
To me it seems as if the technique, knowledge and skills to depict space were slightly less developed than the knowledge and skills to make folds and material expression. One can sense that both aspects had full attention, nevertheless, several things in this panel look a bit clumsy; the accumulation of people does not quite fit inside the frame, the upper figures are a bit smaller and seem a bit crammed in. The perspective is not quite right and some figures seem ‘cut out’. These imperfections do not disturb me at all, on the contrary; they enlarge a feeling of vulnerability and sincerity.
Other aspects on the other hand, are done brilliantly in this work. It is a large group of figures spinning over each other and converging in the image as a pattern. The detailed and refined expression of the fabric is phenomenal. Even with your nose very close to the work, there are no brush strokes to be seen anywhere and I am enchanted by the precision of the details. Some of the drapery folds are highlighted and seem to shine as if the painter used a thin layer of gold. And everything is intertwined in a playful, loose and at the same time convincing way. My eyes do not rest for a moment and are tossed back and forth over the entire surface, constantly enthralled by elaborated details. The twigs with green leaves are nicely spread over the entire image and let it sparkle. The funny striped tight trousers and the clownish shoes do not seem to match the beautiful fur collars and richly embroidered fabrics, but they seduce my eyes even more to focus intensively.
Over the years I have seen this work several times and every time I seem to find something new and it does not stop to take my breath away. Although I don't want to compare my work to the insane level of this masterpiece, I do recognize the desire to leave no part of an image untouched in my work and to tempt the eyes to keep looking as intensely as possible.
Suzan Drummen, 2020
Suzan Drummen (NL)
Commision at the entrance of a parking garage in Apeldoorn
photo prints and convex mirrors on wood