van der


Goes, Hugo van der (d. 1482). The greatest Netherlandish painter of the second half of the 15th century. He was, along with Jan van Eyck, Rogier van der Weyden, Hans Memling and Gerard David, one of the most important of the Early Netherlandish painters. Nothing is known of his life before 1467, when he became a master in the painters' guild at Ghent. 

  Hugo van der Goes had numerous commissions from the town of Ghent for work of a temporary nature such as processional banners, and in 1475 he became dean of the painters' guild. In the same year he entered a priory near Brussels as a lay-brother, but he continued to paint and also to travel. 


No paintings by Hugo are signed and his only securely documented work is his masterpiece, a large triptych of the Nativity known as the "Portinari Altarpiece". This was commissioned by Tommaso Portinari, the representative of the House of Medici in Bruges, for the church of the Hospital of Sta Maria Nuova in Florence, and it exercised a strong influence on Italian painters with its masterful handling of the oil technique. There is a great variety of surface ornament and detail, but this is combined with lucid organization of the figure groups and a convincing sense of spatial depth. As remarkable as Hugo's skill in reconciling grandeur of conception with keen observation is his psychological penetration in the depiction of individual figures, notably the awe-struck shepherds. The other works attributed to Hugo include two large panels probably designed as organ shutters. His last work is generally thought to be the "Death of the Virgin", a painting of remarkable tension and poignancy that seems a fitting swansong for such a tormented personality.


In 1481, he suffered a mental breakdown (he had a tendency to acute depression) and although he recovered, died the following year.


"The Portinari Altarpiece - The Adoration of the Shepherds" (central panel) (1475) Uffizi, Florence, Italy.

"Crucifixion" (circa 1470) Oil on panel. Museo Correr, Venice, Italy.

"The Death of the Virgin" (circa 1480) Oil on wood, 147.8 x 122.5 cm - 58.2 x 48.2 in. Groeninge Museum, Bruges, Belgium.

"The Lamentation of Christ" (1467-68) Oil on oak, 33.8 x 23 cm - 13.3 x 9.1 in. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria.

"Monforte Altarpiece" (circa 1470) Oil on wood, 150 x 247 cm - 59.1 x 97.2 in. Staatliche Museen, Berlin, Germany.

"Portrait of a Man" (circa 1457) Tempera on wood, 31.8 x 26.7 cm - 12.5 x 10.5 in. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA.

Text source: 'Webmuseum' ( and others.

Related Artists:


Related Terms: Oil Paint, Triptych.


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