Albrecht Dürer, the renowned German artist, once referred to his colleague Joachim Patinir as “the good landscape painter”. Indeed, Patinir was one of the pioneers of this genre of painting within the early Flemish Renaissance, back at the turn of the XVI Century. I am particularly attached to Patinir since his oil on wood “Landscape with Charon Crossing the Styx” remains as one of my vivid memories from a visit to the Prado Museum when I was I child. I was particularly impressed by the subject of the work, quite pedagogical, and the intensity of its colours, the deep blue that contrasts with the sharp line of the crepuscular flax horizon.
What I am interested here is about how Patinir ran his workshop from a business perspective. He actively cultivated his own image from the start by signing his early works, not a generalised custom in those days, a fact that reveals his concern for reputation and brand image. He was able to adapt to the preferences of wealthy merchant-customers by focusing on subjects that resembled cartography, contained allusions to trade or references to travel. In fact, he developed a distinctive style, a “product identity”, that is still recognisable today, another competitive advantage.
However, according to some analysts, like Dan Ewing (1), Patinir was not as prolific as some of his contemporary painters. This is due, first to the fact that he did not have many apprentices in his workshop -apparently only one person- whereas other painters in Antwerp had as many as 10. Second, he did not produce many copies of the same work at a time when replicating a painting was the only way to exploit economies of scale. In fact, the workshop of Joos Van Cleeve, located in the same city at that time, produced series of up to 28 replicas of the same work. Third, Patinir enjoyed a comfortable life since his first wife belonged to a wealthy family and was not probably pressed to work for monetary gain. He probably evolved as a perfectionist, as shown in the style and features of his works. He opted for a differentiation business strategy.