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Jan Mostaert was a Dutch painter of portraits and religious subjects. Although little is known of him, Mostaert was born and lived in Haarlem for most of his life. He worked as portraitist for Margaret of Austria, Regent of the Netherlands. Mostaert was born in or about 1475 in Haarlem, Netherlands, to a famous noble family. Said to be handsome, eloquent and polite, Mostaert honed his craft under the guidance of Jacob van Haarlem, who may have actually been the anonymous "Master of the Brunswick Diptych". He is also said to be linked to the early Haarlem School of Painting. Mostaertâ€™s name first appeared in city records in 1498, the year he married and bought a house in his birthplace. He is also mentioned in Haarlem archives from 1527 to 1554. In 1500 Mostaert was commissioned to paint the shutters for a receptacle housing the relics of Saint Bavo in the Groote Kerk, Haarlem. From this date he began to be listed in the records of the painterâ€™s guild, and continued to be frequently listed until 1549. His earliest works are noticeably influenced by Geertgen tot Sint Jans, an earlier Haarlem artist. Some believed that Mostaert was actually apprenticed to tot Sint Jans but it is doubtful that the artist had any apprentices or workshop assistants during his career. From tot Sint Jans, Mostaert adopted a refined style and thoughtful compositions for his works, as well as the stiff, angular look of his figures. Between 1510 and 1516 Mostaert developed a delicate style where his doll-like figures inhabited bright, blue-skied landscapes. His refined brushwork is precise, with an almost religious attention to detail. Also of note is the landscape, which demonstrates his leanings towards more romantic views with expansive hills. During the 1520s Mostaert was also influenced by Joachim Patinirâ€™s take on landscapes. Mostaertâ€™s "St. Christopher", a painting with a landscape that features a river receding into an expansive and hilly background, was once even attributed to Patinir. Mostaertâ€™s portrait work of this earlier period includes a piece entitled "Portrait of Abel van den Coulster" (c. 1500-10), in which an elegant, thin-faced man is situated in equally elegant surroundings. Mostaert was known for copying original portraits for some of his courtly commissions but, as is the case with the "Portrait of Abel", he also painted figures from life and added aristocratic touches. He was known for presenting his portrait sitters in three-quarter-length and placing their hands on cushions. Being an accomplished court painter allowed for Mostaert to make a living off his art and to gain a steady patronage. The last documented reference to him is in 1549 when he petitioned the Haarlem town council for permission to live in Hoorn so that he could complete an altarpiece there. Many of his paintings were destroyed in the Great Fire of Haarlem in 1576. In 1518, Margaret named Mostaert â€śpeintre dâ€™honneur.â€ť Under her employ, he was commissioned to create portraits, though he also produced a number of devotional images as well as portraits for the lesser Dutch nobility. Mostaert accompanied Margaret on many of her travels and painted many portraits of her courtiers, coming into contact with upper class and public figures. One such figure is presented in "Portrait of an African Man" (c. 1520-30). The man wears rich clothes, gloves, and holds a sword, all indicative of his important status. The insignia on his hat and bag allude to possible Spanish or Portuguese origins. Although African kings were depicted in paintings of "The Adoration of the Magi", they were often stereotypical representations. "Portrait of an African Man" is significant because it is the only independently painted portrait of a black man in the Renaissance period. Mostaert also painted a diptych for Margaret, the iconography of which may have been based on mystic literature of the Spanish court, with which Margaret had close connections. Mostaertâ€™s most famous work is the "West Indies Landscape" (c. 1545), which is believed to be a view of the Zuni pueblos in New Mexico. Having never travelled to the Americas, Mostaert had to imagine what the New World looked like. There was speculation that the artist may have seen sketches of the landscapes but this is unlikely since most pictorial documentation of the times was of exotic animals, tools or costumes, rather than panoramic views. Also, the fanciful cliffs seem to be influenced by Patinirâ€™s landscape style rather than authentic renderings. It is believed that Mostaert created the painting based on either written or oral accounts of the newly discovered area to which he would have been privy thanks to his contacts at the court of Margaret of Austria, the aunt of Charles V. One of Mostaertâ€™s favorite themes was the Vision of Augustus and the Tiburtine Sibyl. Although a renaissance painter of portraits and devotional imagery, Mostaert also had a fascination with primitive peoples and lands, as seen in his West Indies Landscape. At around 1520-25 he presented the family life of Adam and Eve in First Family as primitives working on their land. Mostaert was interested in combining pagan and Christian interpretations of humanityâ€™s origins.
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