PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF THE LATE JONKHEER AND MEVROUW DE VILLENEUVE
M. Kronenberg, Rotterdam;
with Nystad Antiquairs, The Hague, from whom purchased by the father of the present owner
In this superbly detailed and refined gouache, we see an elegant – possibly royal – hunting party enjoying the pleasures of every type of field sport, in front of a grand, moated monastery, with a road to the right leading off towards a distant city. The location, identified by Dr. An Zwollo, is the medieval abbey of Rouge-Cloître, on the outskirts of Brussels. Other notable views of the same Abbey, all taken from the opposite side, include one in the background of a 1540s tapestry from the Hunts of Maximilian series1 (fig. 1), a 1630s drawing by Lodewijk de Vadder2, and a 1648 print by Wenzel Hollar after Pieter van Avont. A pen and wash drawing by Bol of the same view, signed and dated 1584, was recently on the art market, but thanks to the difference in date and format, it cannot be considered a study for the present gouache.3
Bol's spectacularly elegant and beautiful landscape gouaches, often extensively heightened with gold, include some of the greatest achievements of late 16th-century landscape painting. Combining elements and qualities from much earlier traditions of manuscript illumination with an observational clarity that owes much to Pieter Breugel, Bol was a unique artistic personality. Many of his gouaches are, like this, executed on vellum, laid down on panel, and were probably conceived as 'cabinet miniatures,' to be kept and displayed in a wunderkamer.
Identifiable topographical views such as this are extremely rare in his work, and no gouache of comparable importance by the artist has come to the market in the last decade.4 The panoramic format of the present work is also rare, as most of the artist's compositions are rather squarer in proportions. In fact, the known examples of works similar in format to this seem to be limited to around a dozen examples, all relatively late works, dated between 1583 and 1592, and all representing views of a handful of important identifiable locations (Brussels, Antwerp, The Hague and Amsterdam). Precisely why Bol should have used this long narrow format for gouaches of important views remains unclear, but what is clear is that these works are among his finest productions.
1. Paris, Louvre
2. Sold, Amsterdam, Sothebys, 5 November 2002, lot 22
3. Sold, New York, Christie's, 25 January 2005, lot 180 (the view not identified)
4. The last such work to appear at auction was the 1585 Landscape with the parable of the Rich Man and a view of Brussels behind, sold Zürich, Koller, 5 October 2001, lot 3021
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