Master of the Parrot
active in Antwerp, c. 1520-1540
Oil on (oak) panel - 32 x 45 cm.

Further information

- Aachen 2011
Peter van den Brink (ed.), Joos van Cleve. Leonardo des Nordens. Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum, Aachen 2011.
- Bowron 1990
Edgar Peters Bowron, European Paintings before 1900 in the Fogg Art MuseumA Summary Catalogue including Paintings in the Busch-Reisinger Museum. Cambridge 1990.
- Busoni 2009
Eva Busoni, Le Maître au Perroquet. Catalogue critique de son œuvre. PhD Université Libre de Bruxelles 2009 (unpublished).
- Díaz Padrón 1984
M. Díaz Padrón, 'Nuevas Pinturas del Maestro del Papagayo identificadas en colecciones espagnolas y extranjeras', Archivo Español de Arte 57 (1984), pp. 257-276.
- Friedländer 1949
M.J. Friedländer, 'Der Meister mit dem Papegei', Phoebus II (1949) no. 2, pp. 49-54.
- Friedländer 1972
M.J. Friedländer, Early Netherlandish painting (VIII), Leiden 1972.
- Friedländer 1975
M.J. Friedländer, Early Netherlandish painting (XII), Leiden 1975.
- Leeflang 2015
Micha Leeflang, Joos van Cleve. A Sixteenth-Century Antwerp Artist and his Workshop. Turnhout 2015.

- New York 2010
Maryan W. Ainsworth (ed.), Man, Myth, and Sensual Pleasures. Jan Gossart’s Renaissance. The Complete Works, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 2010.
- Sanzsalazar 2003
J. Sanzsalazar, 'Una pintura del Maestro del Papagayo en el Museum Mayer van den Bergh de Amberes', Archivo Español de Arte 76 (2003), pp. 433-436.
- Sanzsalazar 2005
J. Sanzsalazar, 'Un "San Jerónimo penitente" del Maestro del Papagayo en colección privada Madrileña', Archivo Español de Arte 78 (2005), p. 434-438.



This fascinating small devotional painting presents the Holy Family; the young Virgin Mary holds the Christ Child in her hands, he has fallen asleep after drinking, resting his head and left hand on his mother’s breast. They sit behind a ledge that carries a bunch of grapes and a single apple. The latter points forward to Christ as the New Adam, whereas the grapes foreshadow Christ’s death on the Cross. This knowledge is reflected in the somewhat absent-minded glance in the Virgin’s eyes. The old Joseph has been squeezed in the corner, holding a carnation in his left hand. Here, the carnation should not be regarded as a reference to the matrimonial state of the couple, but it stands symbol to Christ’s Passion, as it is in Joos van Cleve’s Virgin and Child in Kansas City.


This unpublished and, until now, fully unknown Holy Family must be attributed to the so-called Master with the Parrot. This anonymous artist was active in Antwerp from the 1520s until the 1540s and was named after his key painting in the Pushkin Museum in Moscow or a second and third version of that picture, one recently in the art trade, the other a lost painting from the museum in Lodz.1 This composition confronts us with an almost full length presentation of the seated Virgin and Child before a rocky landscape.2 The parrot the Christ Child is playing with lent its name to this very talented painter, who must have been active in or around the workshop of Joos van Cleve, with whom he has most in common stylistically and from whom he borrows his compositional motifs.3


When we compare our Holy Family with the two key paintings in the artist’s oeuvre, there can hardly be any doubt that they stem from the same hand. A very detailed comparison between the faces of the two virgins is especially striking. The roundish face, straight nose, the melancholic look in her eyes and the small closed mouth all point to the same artist. As with the key painting in Moscow, which is known

in three versions, our painting is known in various versions, some with Joseph and some without, his place then taken by a window with a view on the distant landscape. Most certainly not all versions share the same quality or were painted by the same artist. In fact, none of the other versions of the Holy Family can be compared to the quality of our version; none of them were actually painted by the Master with the Parrot. Of those versions with Joseph missing from the scene, only the version in Cambridge shows the same hand (fig. 1).4


The subject matter was apparently very popular in early 16th-Century Antwerp. Highly profiled painters like Joos van Cleve, Pieter Coecke van Aelst and Gerard David produced several paintings in which the Holy Family was portrayed, each painter in his own manner. The direct model for our composition was, however, provided by Jan Gossaert, in a painting in the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (fig. 2).5 As stated before, the painter is stylistically much closer connected to Joos van Cleve, as is evident from the comparison with the latter’s various compositions of the Holy Family or the Virgin and Child, especially the Virgin and Child in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. It is therefore likely that the Master with the parrot was trained in the workshop of Joos van Cleve.


The painting was recently examined with infrared reflectography (fig. 3); the underdrawing has been applied in a dry medium, it is linear and precise for the contours of the faces, hands and body of Christ, but far bolder and sketchy in the set-up of the Virgin’s cloak, using parallel hatching for the preparations of shadows in the folds. The underdrawing does not give a mechanical impression, as we know from the serial production in the Joos van Cleve studio, where popular compositions were prepared with the aid of cartoons for mechanical transfer, as with the various versions of the Kissing infants Christ and John the Baptist, the so-called Cherry Madonna, or, for that matter one of the compositions of the Holy Family.6 No such standardized praxis could be detected in the production of the Master with the Parrot’s Holy Family. When compared to the underdrawing, it is evident that the painted composition followed the initial lay-out in detail, with one exception. The face of Joseph was shifted from a three-quarter profile to a more frontal presentation (fig. 4), changing the shape of his skull and the location of his nose and proper left eye.


This Holy Family can be attributed with certainty to the so-called Master with the Parrot, an anonymous painter who worked in the vicinity of the studio of Joos van Cleve in Antwerp in the 1530s and 1540s. This composition is known in many different versions, either with or without Joseph present. This painting, however, does not show any signs of mechanical transfer and is therefore not part of a standardized series. Based on a model of Jan Gossaert, it is highly likely that this painting was one of the very first that came into being and therefore provided the direct model for many others.



Peter van den Brink



1  All three picture are close in quality and they look really identical. Pushkin Museum, Moscow, Inv. No. B 1924-1937; the lost picture was owned by The J. and K. Bartoszewicz City Museum of History and Art in ?ód?, and was stolen under Nazi Occupation between 1939-1945. The third version was last seen with Douwes Fine Art in Amsterdam, in 2006.


2 The picture type of a full-length Virgin and Child before a landscape, was apparently a popular one with the artist, since we know of several others, such as a picture in the Detroit Institute of Arts, inv. no. 67.119, or another variation of that composition, last auctioned at Sotheby’s in London, on December 13, 2001 as lot 20, or a somewhat other composition with Galerie De Jonckheere in Paris (Friedländer 1975, Plate 210).


3 The position of the seated child in the Moscow painting is a mirror image of that of its counterpart in Joos van Cleve’s Virgin and Child in Limoges. See Aachen 2011, pp. 173-174, no. 30, fig. 143. There are analogies with the production from the Pieter Coecke workshop as well, though, especially with regard to specific facial types. The literature on the Master with the Parrot is very limited. Apart from a small section in vol. XII of Max Friedländer’s Early Netherlandish Painting and an article he published on the painter in 1949, we only know of three articles in the Archivo Español de Arte from 1984, 2003 and 2005. Recently, Eva Busoni, finished her dissertation on the Master with the Parrot at the ULB, but that dissertation has not been published yet.


4 Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, inv. no. 1930.182. See Bowron 1990, pp. 120, 175, fig. 114.


5 Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, inv. no. 59.27. The painting has always been regarded as being by Jan Gossaert, until Maryan Ainsworth deleted the picture from the artist’s oeuvre, ascribing the work to a follower (New York 2010, p. 303, fig. 239).


6 Leeflang 2015, pp. 70-85.




Fig. 1   Fig. 2
Fig. 3   Fig. 4