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Geertgen tot Sint Jans

about 1455/65; died about 1485/95

The name Geertgen tot Sint Jans means 'little Gerard of Saint John', and refers to the Brethren of Saint John at Haarlem, a lay order to which the artist presumably belonged. Not much is known of his life; works are attributed to him mostly on stylistic grounds. Van Mander is the main source of information about Geertgen, and writes that he was born in Leiden and trained by Isaac van Ouwater; he died young, aged about 28.

His most ambitious paintings are two panels from the high altar of the church of St John at Haarlem, now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. These show knowledge of the work of Hugo van der Goes and Rogier van der Weyden, but are distinctive in their directness and simplicity, peopled by figures engagingly child-like in their appearance and behaviour.

A famous smaller panel of John the Baptist in Berlin (Dahlem Museum) is remarkable in Netherlandish painting of the time as an essay in landscape, which complements the brooding figure of the saint.