Ambrosius Benson (born Ambrogio Benzone) was one of the principal painters active in the city of Bruges in the 16th century. He was reputedly born in Lombardy, possibly in Milan. There is no record of his date of birth, but by 1518 he had moved north and acquired citizenship in Bruges. The following year he was admitted to the painters’ guild.
He was employed at first in the workshop of Gerard David, where he seems to have continued working in spite of an acrimonious dispute with his master which led to legal proceedings. The works of David remained the most important influence on his style.
Benson pursued an extremely successful and lucrative career in Bruges, where he owned three houses. On various occasions he served as vynder, dean and director of the painters’ guild. A substantial proportion of his works seems to have been exported to Spain and many of his most important paintings remain there.
Benson was primiarily a painter of religious subjects, in which he remained faithful to the conservative conventions he learnt from David. His powerful chiaroscuro modelling on the other hand is probably attributable to his Lombard origins. Although he painted relatively few portraits, they are considered to be among his best and most interesting works.
His Portraits of Cornelius Duplicius de Scheppere and his wife Elizabeth Donche c.1540 displays Benson’s miniaturist’s capability and love of detail. De Scheppere was a notable scholar and diplomat, who served as vice-chancellor of Denmark. Benson’s religious images – by far the bulk of his output and frequently made for export to France and Italy – possess a note of introspection which carries over to his secular efforts. In the case of this flawlessly preserved pair of pendant portraits, the sitters seem as alert to their own interior imaginings as to any dialogue with each other or the external world. Small in scale, they were designed primarily for ease of storage, transport and display. Benson’s typically warm palette is well demonstrated, especially in the clothing.