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Home / Great Artists / G / Hugo van der Goes / Biography

Hugo van der Goes Biography


c.1440-1482

Netherlandish Northern Renaissance Painter

Hugo van der Goes (Ghent, c. 1440 - Oudergem, near Brussels, 1482 or 1483) was a Netherlandish painter. 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.

Hugo became a member of the painters' guild of Ghent as a master in 1467. In 1468 he was involved in the decoration of the town of Bruges in celebration of the marriage between Charles the Bold and Margaret of York and he provided heraldic decorations for Charles's joyeuse entree to Ghent in 1469 and again in 1472. He was elected dean of the Ghent guild in 1473 or 1474.

In 1475, or some years later, Hugo entered Rooklooster, a monastery near Brussels belonging to the Windesheim Congregation, and professed there as a frater conversus. He continued to paint, and remained at Rooklooster until his death in 1482 or 1483. In 1480 he was called to the town of Leuven to evaluate the Justice Scenes left unfinished by the painter Dieric Bouts on his death in 1475. Shortly after this, Hugo, returning with other members of his monastery from a trip to Cologne, fell into a state of suicidal gloom, declaring himself to be damned. After returning to Rooklooster, Hugo recovered from his illness, and died there. His time at Rooklooster is recorded in the chronicle of his fellow monk, Gaspar Ofhuys. A report by a German physician, Hieronymus Munzer, from 1495, according to which a painter from Ghent was driven to melancholy by the attempt to equal the Ghent Altarpiece, may refer to Hugo.

His most famous surviving work is the Portinari Triptych (Uffizi, Florence), an altarpiece commissioned for the church of San Egidio in the hospital of Santa Maria Nuova in Florence by Tommaso Portinari, the manager of the Bruges branch of the Medici Bank. The triptych arrived in Florence in 1483, apparently some years after its completion by van der Goes. The largest Netherlandish work that could be seen in Florence, it was greatly praised. Giorgio Vasari in his Vite of 1550 referred to it as by "Ugo d'Anversa" ("Hugo of Antwerp"). This the sole documentation for its authorship by Hugo; other works are attributed to him based on stylistic comparison with the altarpiece.

Hugo appears to have left a large number of drawings, and either from these or the paintings themselves followers made large numbers of copies of compositions that have not survived from his own hand. A drawing of Jacob and Rachel preserved at Christ Church, Oxford is thought to be a rare surviving autograph drawing.