SN 217, oil on canvas, 66x50 in.

Gaspar De Crayer
Flemish, 1584-1669

From "The Pages"

A prolific Flemish painter and draftsman, de Crayer was born in Antwerp and died in Ghent. He was one of the earliest and most consistent followers of Rubens’ style which helped his own reputation. He was active in the southern Netherlands, where altar pieces and religious paintings that embodied the tenets of the Catholic church were in high demand. Such pieces form the largest part of his work.

In his youth he moved to Brussels, where he apprenticed himself to Raphael Coxcie, court painter to Archdukes Albert and Archduchess Isabella. His early work includes portraits of the Spanish nobility as well as many commissions around Brussels for decorative altarpieces. He was appointed Dean of the painters’ guild there (1611-1616) and held important positions in town government.

De Crayer must have known Rubens for his work shows the latter’s strong influence. In fact, De Crayer copied works that he could only have seen in Rubens’ studio. He also played a role in the sale of paintings from Rubens estate to Philip IV of Spain. De Crayer’s commissions also came from beyond the southern Netherlands as he had Spanish patrons as well. In Brussels he ran a prominent studio.

Isabella, born August 12, 1566, was the favorite daughter of Philip II of Spain. After her father’s death in 1599, she married the Archduke Albert. It was after his death that she became Governess of the Netherlands. Isabella died in Brussels on December 1, 1633.

De Crayer paints Isabella at the approximate age of 30; her black dress is richly embroidered with gold and silver and has fashionable slashed sleeves. She wears a stiff lace ruff collar, and a jeweled diadem adorns her head; on her breast is a 15th c enameled plaque which shows a standing Madonna encircled by rays. Isabella was a major patron of Rubens, who portrays her dressed as St Clare in Defenders of the Faith (Gal.2).

De Crayer’s artistic style underwent distinct changes as he matured. During his first period, until c. 1618, his work reflects prevailing 16th c trends, compositions with inaccurate depiction of space, and foregrounds crowded with rather stiff figures. Then, due to the profound influence of Rubens, his style becomes more harmonious and balanced, his palette determined by contrasting areas of local color. Figures become more monumental with a greater sense of volume. After 1631, his work became even more dynamic, though the strongly-modeled character of his figures remains. Van Dyke became important influence too.

For his many large-scale compositions de Crayer made pen and ink drawings and oil sketches, some of which are squared for transfer. That some of the oil sketches are in color is undoubtedly due to Rubens’ influence, for in Flanders (more than anywhere else) it was popular to make preliminary oil sketches in grisaille.

This painting was done c.1620 during a period of considerable religious strife. In 1517 Martin Luther had tacked his theses onto the church door in Witttenberg, demanding reforms in the Catholic church. Though he asked only for change, upheaval was the result - bringing about the birth of Protestantism. The Catholic church responded to the Reformation with the Counter-Reformation, a movement that was more than cerebral. Armies clashed, and in 1625, a resounding victory at the Battle of Breda led Isabella to the erroneous conclusion that Protestantism was quashed.

Counter-Reformation beliefs were given forceful visual expression and demand was high for institutional decoration that promoted the tenets of the church. These were successful times for artists like de Crayer. The church wanted its message through art to be loud, clear, and unmistakable. Religious experience for the faithful was bolstered by intense, colorful, and emotion-inspiring paintings which decorated abbeys, convents, monasteries, and churches. Rubens’ cycle, The Triumph of the Eucharist, [Galleries 1 & 2] is the direct result of Isabella’s religious fervor and her desire to give a gift to the convent of her youth, the Order of the Poor Clares.

Museum Label:
Portrait of the Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia
c. 1620
Artist: Gaspar de Crayer
Flemish, 1584-1669, active in Antwerp
Oil on canvas, 67 1/4 x 50 1/8 in. (170.8 x 127.3 cm)
Isabella Clara Eugenia was a daughter of King Philip II of Spain. In 1599 she married the Archduke Albert of Austria and after his death became sole governess of the Southern Netherlands, now modern Belgium. She died in Brussels in 1633. Isabella was a major patron of Rubens from his early years, culminating with the commission for the Triumph of the Eucharist series. De Crayer was a follower of Rubens and was also extensively employed by Isabella and her successor the Archduke Ferdinand. Rubens portrayed the Archduchess dressed as St. Clare in the cartoon for The Defenders of the Eucharist.
Bequest of John Ringling, 1936, SN217