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Jan Gossaert (Jean Gossart), An Elderly Couple

Key facts
Full title An Elderly Couple
Artist Jan Gossaert (Jean Gossart)
Artist dates active 1508; died 1532
Date made about 1520
Medium and support Oil on parchment laid down on canvas
Dimensions 48.1 × 69.2 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1900
Inventory number NG1689
Location Room 27
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
An Elderly Couple
Jan Gossaert (Jean Gossart)

An elderly couple stare past each other – and us – in this astonishing study of old age. Although prosperously dressed, the pair seem disappointed: their mouths are turned resolutely down, their eyes dull and their jowls sagging. Although they overlap, each figure makes a self-contained triangle; their isolation is in vivid contrast to the classical lovers embracing in the cameo in the man’s hat.

The only indication of who they are is their clothing, which suggest a North Netherlandish origin and a date in the 1510s, although given their age they may not have dressed in the latest fashions. Unusually, the painting is on parchment, perhaps to make it easier to transport. It might not have been painted for the sitters, but for some distant friend or relative. They may never have seen the finished painting and never been aware of Gossart’s merciless observation of their agedness.

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