'Beautiful Authorities': Augustus W.N. Pugin and Early Netherlandish Painting

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In 1843, Augustus Pugin (1812-1852), the leading architect of the Gothic Revival in early Victorian Britain, wrote of his plans to “work all day” at the museum at Antwerp, “where I shall fijind the most Beautiful authorities”. The result of his visit was a series of drawings, now divided between the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Yale University, which record Florent van Ertborn's collection of early Northern paintings, bequeathed in 1841 to what is now the Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten in Antwerp. Pugin's drawings of the Van Ertborn pictures attest to a keen interest in early Netherlandish painting, which is also reflected in his writings and in his own art collection. Taking the drawings as its starting point, this article examines Pugin's engagement with early Netherlandish painting. It assesses the importance for him of such pictures - experienced both at fijirst hand and through reproductions - and their impact on his impassioned revival of the Gothic style. Pugin's enthusiasm for early Netherlandish art was fuelled by his Catholic faith and by his priorities as a designer in search of 'authorities' to inform his work, especially in stained glass and book illustration. His experience of the Van Ertborn pictures is placed in the context of other collections he knew that featured 'Flemish Primitives', including that of his patron, Lord Shrewsbury, and the influential Aders collection in London, from which he purchased some pieces. The article concludes with consideration of Pugin's abiding impact on the study of early Netherlandish painting through his influence on W.H. James Weale, whose pioneering research forms the bedrock of modern scholarship in the fijield.




85107213589 (Scopus)


Brill Academic



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Oud Holland