Adriaen Thomasz.  Key - St. Peter Penitent
St. Peter Penitent
Adriaen Thomasz.  Key - Portrait of a Bearded Gentleman, Bust-Length, in a Black Doublet with a White Lace Ruff
Portrait of a Bearded Gentleman, Bust-Length, in a Black Doublet with a White Lace Ruff
Click on the main picture to view details

Adriaen Thomasz. Key (Antwerp c.1544 - Antwerp after 1589)

Adriaen Thomasz. Key was a Flemish painter. His oeuvre consists of portraits and altarpieces, devotional paintings and chiaroscuro prints.

After a short and successful artistic career in a turbulent period, Adriaen Thomasz. Key vanished from the stage for centuries. Barring his art, he left few other traces behind and over time even this came to be riddled with the most far-fetched attributions. In the past, connoisseurs were often at a complete loss. Key’s pictures were ascribed to a host of painters from numerous countries and periods. The names of Frans Pourbus the Elder (c.1545-1581) and Willem Key (c.1515-1568), for instance, were linked to several of Key’s panels. Other works had to endure attributions which had nothing in common with the quality, let alone the art, of the master. Dozens of inferior portraits were given to Key and many of his altarpieces and devotional scenes were not recognised as such because he was considered solely as a portraitist. Consequently, up until now the image of Key’s art has been clouded and inconsistent.

Key richly deserved his reputation as a portraitist. Some ninety percent of his preserved oeuvre consists of likenesses of the Antwerp and the Dutch elite. Key’s skills as a portraitist were and are generally acknowledged. With a finesse and sobriety recalling that of Flemish Primitives such as Jan van Eyck (c.1395-1441) and Hans Memling (c.1430-1494), he recorded his sitters with ruthless objectivity. The same sobriety and objectivity are to be found in his altarpieces and devotional paintings, a less known facet of his art. Often incorrectly ascribed as a lack of ingenuity or understanding of the Italian Renaissance and typified as archaising, Key’s history and devotional paintings prove to be of a huge intellectual resourcefulness and artistic talent. His art was a conscious, reformatory and humanistic intellectual discourse with his famous predecessors and contemporaries.