Joos van Cleve

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Portrait of Eleonore of Austria, Queen of France, circa 1530, by Joos van Cleve

Joos van Cleve (/ˈklvə/;[1] also Joos van der Beke; c. 1485 – 1540/1541) was a painter active in Antwerp around 1511 to 1540. He is known for combining traditional Netherlandish painting techniques with influences of more contemporary Renaissance painting styles.[2]

An active member and co-deacon of the Guild of Saint Luke of Antwerp, he is known mostly for his religious works and portraits of royalty. As a skilled technician, his art shows sensitivity to color and a unique solidarity of figures.[3] He was one of the first to introduce broad landscapes in the backgrounds of his paintings, which would become a popular technique of sixteenth century northern Renaissance paintings.

He was the father of Cornelius or Cornelis van Cleve (1520-1567) who was also a painter and is believed to have suffered from a mental illness and was therefore referred to as 'Sotte Cleef' (mad Cleef).[4][5]


Altarpiece of the Lamentation, 1520-1525, oil on wood, Musée du Louvre, Paris.

Early life[edit]

Joos van Cleve was born around 1485. The birthplace of Joos van Cleve is not precisely known, however it can be assumed that he came from the Lower Rhenish region of Kleve, from which his name is derived. It is assumed that he began his artistic training around 1505 in the workshop of Jan Joset, where he assisted in the panel paintings of the high altar for the Nikolaikirche in Kalkar, Lower Rhine, Germany.

Joos van Cleve is believed to have moved to Bruges between 1507 - 1511 since his painting style is similar to that of the painters of Bruges.[5] Later he moved to Antwerp, and in 1511 became a free master in the Antwerp Guild of Saint Luke. He was co-deacon of the guild for several years around 1520, along with presenting pupils between 1516 and 1536.[4] It is possible he spent time in France at the court in 1529 or 1535. He may also have made a trip to Italy around this time and to London (England) around 1535-1536.[5]

Personal life[edit]

He had two children from his first marriage, a daughter and a son. His son Cornelis (1520) became a painter. Although the date of his death is unknown, Joos van Cleve drew up a will and testament on 10 November 1540, and his second wife was listed as a widow in April 1541.[4]


Alias and identity[edit]

From the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, the name of Joos van Cleve as an artist was lost. The paintings now attributed to Joos van Cleve were, at that time, known as the works of “the Master of the Death of the Virgin,” after the triptych currently in the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum (Cologne). In 1894 it was discovered that the monogram on the back of the triptych was that of Joos van der Beke, an alias of Joos van Cleve.[4]

Artistic influences[edit]

The influence of Kalkar and Bruges are seen in many of Joos van Cleve’s early works, such as Adam and Eve (1507}. The Death of the Virgin (1520) shows the combined influence of several artists. It has the intense emotionality of Hugo van der Goes, and iconographic ideas of Jan van Eyck and Robert Campin. A strong influence of Italian art combined with Joos van Cleve’s own color and light sensitivity make his works especially unique. The “Antwerp Mannerist” style is identifiable in the Adoration of the Magi. It is thought that the “Antwerp Mannerists” were in turn influenced by Joos van Cleve.

Like Quentin Matsys, a fellow artist active in Antwerp, Joos van Cleve appropriated themes and techniques of Leonardo da Vinci. This is apparent in the use of sfumato in the Virgin and Chil. Multiple versions of a soft, sentimental Madonna and Child and the Holy Family were discovered, produced in his workshop.[4]

Royal portraits[edit]

Joos van Cleve’s skills as a portrait artist were highly regarded as demonstrated by a summons to the court of Francis I of France. There he painted the king, queen and other members of the court. One of Joos van Cleve’s most famous works is his portrait of Eleanor of Austria, Francis’ wife.[4]

Virgin and Child[edit]

The painting Virgin and Child by Joos van Cleve show us in a historical context of alcohols role with religion. Since the beginning of time alcohol has been closely related to that of religion. Alcohol in the form of wine has been used in religion since time of the Greek’s and Roman’s God of wine all the way up to Jesus Christ at the last supper. Many cultures like the French like to translate in artwork. The Egyptian also did this to show the role of alcohol and religion in their society.During the Middle Ages the Catholic Church was in control of most of the world during this time. They had great power over the period in which Joos van Cleve lived. The Pope of the Catholic Church pretty much had influence everywhere in Europe at this time for the majority of the population was catholic. In the case of Virgin and Child we see the influences of the Catholic Church has on Joos. During the Middle Ages also was the Renaissance which was the seeking of new ideas and technologies. This was a time when feudalism was taking over Europe. The only main figures during this time who were top class of society was the king and religious. Since Joos was from France which is heavily catholic we can safely assume that this painting has Mary as the virgin and Jesus as the child. The wine in this painting is symbolic to why alcohol and religion come together as one in this painting. Most would say that the wine is a symbol or redemption in this painting and this could be true and up to interpretation. As most people come to look as this figure of the Virgin we see the red garment around her showing the purity along with the green of her robe for nobility. From here we can translate from the nude baby which can symbolize innocence and yet he is drink wine for redemption. This could be informing to the reader during this time that wine my not just be for religious aspects but also just a normal part of daily life. The paint either way shows Mary symbolizing the purity of humankind giving alcohol to baby Jesus. This tells us that the culture at this time had some type of recognition that wine in some form was highly important to their life style.[6]In many forms they are following the trend of past cultures using wine a symbolic piece of their everyday life and religion. They see wine as a divine gift given to them from a deity from above. Like many other cultures of the past wine is evaluated to play a high role amongst the people of the Middle Ages. We can also translate that in some way they believe that though drinking alcohol they can be spiritual saved. This would mean that wine at this time was drank to be saved religiously more than socially.Artworks just like Virgin and Child have been made to show how related alcohol and religion in any culture are so closely related since its creation. So as we look through this work of art we can see how alcohol is used as a type of redemption or social status through religious figures. We can also infer that like many other societies during this time alcohol and religion had a huge impact on life.The painting Virgin and Child by Joos Van Cleve show us in a historical context of alcohols role with religion. A strong presence of both in this painting means that this culture was heavily influenced by alcohol and religion during the time period of this painting.This could mean that wine itself is supernatural in nature to most of these societies as it was to Joos Van Cleve when he made this painting during the Renaissance.[7]

Works (partial list)[edit]

Mona Vanna

In chronological order[edit]

  • The Holy Family (1515), Akademie der bildenden Kunste, Vienna
  • Saint Reinhold Altar (before 1516), National Museum, Warsaw
  • Triptych. Centre: the Deposition from the Cross; Left wing: St John the Baptist with a Donor; Right wing: St Margaret of Antioch with a Donatrix (1518-1519), National Galleries Scotland, Edinburgh[8]
  • Self-Portrait (1519), Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid
  • The Death of the Virgin (1520), Alte Pinakothek, Munich
  • Man with the Rosary (1520), National Museum, Belgrade[9]
  • Altarpiece of the Lamentation (1520–25), Musée du Louvre, Paris
  • The Suicide of Lucretia (1520–25), Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
  • Portrait of a Man and Woman (1520 and 1527), Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence
  • The Annunciation (1525), Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
  • The Infants Christ and Saint John the Baptist Embracing (1525–30), Art Institute, Chicago
  • Adoration of the Magi (1526–28), Gemaldegalerie, Dresden
  • Portrait of Eleonora, Queen of Florence (1530), Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
  • Virgin and Child (1535), Landesmuseum, Oldenburg
  • Madonna and Child against the renaissance background (c. 1535), Museum of King Jan III's Palace at Wilanów, Warsaw

Dates unknown[edit]

  • Death of the Virgin, Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne
  • The Holy Family, The Hermitage, St. Petersburg
  • Mona Vanna, National Gallery, Prague
  • Portrait of Agniete ven den Rijne, Rijksmuseum Twenthe, Enschede
  • Portrait of Anthonis van Hilten, Rijksmuseum Twenthe, Enschede
  • St. Anne with the Virgin and Child and St. Joachim, Musee Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels
  • Virgin and Child, Szepmuveszeti Muzeum, Budapest
  • Triptych of Saint Peter, Saint Paul and Saint Andrew, Museu de Arte Sacra do Funchal

Reference for all works except Mona Vanna[10]


  1. ^ "Cleve". Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.
  2. ^ "Rijksmuseum: Joos van Cleve". 
  3. ^ Hand, John Oliver (2005). Joos Van Cleve: The Complete Paintings. Yale University Press. p. 1. ISBN 0-300-10578-9. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f Campbell, Lorne (2000). The fifteenth century Netherlandish paintings : National Gallery catalogues (Repr. ed.). New Haven: Yale Univ. Press. ISBN 0-300-07701-7. 
  5. ^ a b c Joos van Cleve at the Netherlands Institute for Art History (Dutch)
  6. ^ "Virgin and Child by CLEVE, Joos Van." Virgin and Child by CLEVE, Joos Van. Accessed December 11, 2014.
  7. ^ McMichael, Andrew. "Middle Ages." Lecture,, Bowling Green, November 13, 2014.
  8. ^ Triptych. Centre: the Deposition from the Cross; Left wing: St John the Baptist with a Donor; Right wing: St Margaret of Antioch with a Donatrix (1518-1519), National Galleries Scotland, Edinburgh
  9. ^ Man with the Rosary (1520), National Museum, Belgrade
  10. ^ "Web Gallery of Art: Joos van Cleve". 

External links[edit]