Jan Mostaert bigraphy, stories - painter

Jan Mostaert : biography

c. 1475 - c. 1555/1556

Jan Mostaert, also known by the names Joannes Sinapius and Master Of Oultremont (c. 1475 – 1555/1556) was a Dutch Renaissance painter of portraits and religious subjects, though his most famous creation was the "West Indies Landscape".

West Indies Landscape

Mostaert's most famous work is the "West Indies Landscape" (c. 1545), which is believed to be a view of the Zuni pueblos in New Mexico. Having never travelled to the Americas, Mostaert had to imagine what the New World looked like. There was speculation that the artist may have seen sketches of the landscapes but this is unlikely since most pictorial documentation of the times was of exotic animals, tools or costumes, rather than panoramic views. Also, the fanciful cliffs seem to be influenced by Patinir's landscape style rather than authentic renderings. It is believed that Mostaert created the painting based on either written or oral accounts of the newly discovered area to which he would have been privy thanks to his contacts at the court of Margaret of Austria, the aunt of Charles V.

Although the narrative in the painting was thought to depict a number of different events, including Columbus on the island of Guanaja, Hernán Cortés in Mexico, and the Portuguese invasion of Brazil, it is actually the story of Coronado's search for the seven cities of gold in the Zuni village of Cibola in New Mexico and Arizona in 1540-42.

The best evidence that the picture is based on Coronado's story can be found at the right side of the painting, by the base of the cliffs. On his travels, Coronado was stoned at the entrance to the village by the native Indians. He was rescued by two of his officers who came to his aid and warded off the incoming Indians. Mostaert may have added the event to the landscape to lend it a measure of credibility.

The landscape's terrain, as well as the look of the natives, also matches the descriptions of Pedro de Castañeda, a member of Coronado's team, made during his travels. According to him, the land was full of cliffs, some with ladders on them reaching to different levels, the people were tall and naked, and their huts were built into the ground and made of straw, the roofs protruding from the ground.

Mostaert devotes only a small section of the painting to Coranado and his men, showing us instead the unity and strength of the native peoples fighting for their land. The painting is one of the earliest depictions of the Europeans' invasions of the Americas and of the "noble savage."


Although a renaissance painter of portraits and devotional imagery, Mostaert also had a fascination with primitive peoples and lands, as seen in his West Indies Landscape. At around 1520-25 he presented the family life of Adam and Eve in First Family as primitives working on their land. Mostaert was interested in combining pagan and Christian interpretations of humanity's origins. His son was a common painter and was not named by Karel van Mander, but his twin grandsons Frans and Gillis both became respected landscape painters.

Portrait of an African Man

Mostaert accompanied Margaret on many of her travels and painted many portraits of her courtiers, coming into contact with upper class and public figures. One such figure is presented in "Portrait of an African Man" (c. 1520-30). It is not known exactly who this man was but there are indications that he was either associated with Margaret's court or was an attendant of her nephew, Charles V. The man wears rich clothes, gloves, and holds a sword, all indicative of his important status. The insignia on his hat and bag allude to possible Spanish or Portuguese origins. Although African kings were depicted in paintings of "The Adoration of the Magi", they were often stereotypical representations. "Portrait of an African Man" is significant because it is the only independently painted portrait of a black man in the Renaissance period.

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