Gallerie della Accademia, Venice (from a wax seal on the reverse);
Purchased in Europe by the father of the present owner circa 1890.
This rediscovered Denial of Saint Peter is a significant addition to the corpus of Adam de Coster, one of the more individual painters of the "candlelight tradition." According to an old French label reattached after restoration to the reverse of the stretcher, it had traditionally been considered to be by Pietro della Vecchia. A wax seal, also transferred at a later date, suggests that the picture at one point had been in the Accademia in Venice, where it presumably was shown as a work by that Venetian artist. It is, however, a characteristic work of de Coster, a small body of whose strongly modeled and dramatic compositions were isolated by Benedict Nicolson in a number of publications.1
A native of the Flemish town of Malines (where there was a strong tradition of such tenebrist pictures), de Coster became renowned for these works, even being included in van Dyck Iconographia as a "Pictor noctium." He appears to have spent much of his working life in Antwerp, although he was recorded in Hamburg in 1635. Nicolson, however, noted a certain correspondence with the works of the Lombard painter Antonio Campi, thus suggesting a sojourn in Italy. Whether or not he actually crossed the Alps, the painter had strong ties to Italy, not only stylistically but personally. His nephew, the painter Pieter de Coster, left Flanders for Venice at an early age to spend the rest of his career there, and another relative, Angelus de Coster, a grand-nephew, was recorded as a painter in Rome.
The reappearance of the present canvas is also intriguing in terms of this supposed Italian period of the artist. Its apparent Italian provenance is in itself interesting, but its relation to another picture is even more compelling. The figure of the woman in profile at the left of the composition accusing the figure of Peter is seen again in another painting by de Coster of a Young Woman Holding a Distaff before a Lit Candle (see fig.1). That painting (now in a private collection) depicts what is certainly the same model that de Coster used in the present painting; she is even dressed in the same distinctive costume: a fur trimmed red dress with an elaborately tied white, striped sash, and a striped red turban as headdress. That painting also had an early Italian provenance; it had been in the collection of the Principi di Galati, Palermo from the 17th Century, where it hung as a pendant to a Cavalier Lighting a Pipe from an Oil Lamp by Mattias Stomer.2 The stylistic relationship between these two works and their provenances suggest that they might have indeed been painted at the same time and as they both appear to have remained in Italy until the early 20th Century, it is tempting to think that they both may have been painted by de Coster there.
1. See among others "Notes on Adam de Coster," in The Burlington Magazine, Vol. 103, No. 698. (May, 1961), pp. 185-186, 188-189, and most especially Carvaggism in Europe, Oxford 1979, pp. 100-101.
2. Both pictures were apparently recorded in family documents from an early date as a pair, with the de Coster given to Honthorst, while the Stomer remained with its correct attribution. Both were offered for sale in these rooms on January 17, 1992, lots 46 and 47 respectively.
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