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Herri met de Bles

Herri met de Bles (1510 – 1555–1560) was a Flemish Northern Renaissance and Mannerist landscape painter, native of Bouvignes or Dinant.

Very little is positively known about the artist. He is believed to be identical to a certain Herry de Patenir who joined Antwerp’s Guild of St. Luke in 1535 as a painter. He may have been related to the landscape painter Joachim Patinir, although he may not have trained under him because of the age difference.

He may have visited Italy but there is no documentary evidence for this. His work was popular in Italy, where he was known as ‘Civetta’ because of the little owl that often appears in his paintings (usually in a hollow tree or in a cavity between some rocks). The 17th-century biographer Karel van Mander regarded this motif as his signature. The name Herri met de Bles translates literally from Dutch as Herri with the blaze and was reportedly given him because of his characteristic white forelock.

He contributed, along with Joachim Patinir, to a distinct style of Northern Renaissance landscape painting that combined small history or religious scenes into compositions defined by perspective and atmospheric effects. They both painted landscapes seen from a high viewpoint and rocky masses. They did not aim to create a realistic depiction but an atmospheric effect. Herri met de Bles always included a few small figures involved in mining activities, a religious episode or everyday activities such as agriculture or trade.

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His landscapes are different from those of Patinir’s in various aspects: de Bles’ work shows more foreground landscapes, a looser composition and more detail. His choice of colours is generally less rich than that of Patinir.

Along with a group of Antwerp-based followers of Hieronymus Bosch that included Jan Mandyn, Pieter Huys, and Jan Wellens de Cock, de Bles continued the tradition of fantastic imagery into northern Mannerism.

In Richard Powers’s novel, “The Gold Bug Variations (1991),” one of the main characters is working on a dissertation whose subject is Herri met de Bles. The obscurity of the painter as well as the weirdness of his imagery works into the motifs of the novel.

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