This Virgin and Child has been dated to circa 1515-1520, a work of the artist’s early maturity. Wearing a brilliant red cloak, lined with fur and elaborately embroidered with pearls along the outside edge, the Virgin sits in a loggia-like space with open windows at the right and left sides looking out on a distant mountainous landscape. Her lips are partly open in a slight smile as she cradles the Christ Child in one arm while helping him to drink from a raised glass filled with red wine, a symbol of the Eucharist. Characteristic of Netherlandish painting of this period are the jewel-like colors and exquisitely rendered details of the Virgin’s costume and brocade pillow in the foreground.
Examination under infrared-reflectography has revealed an underdrawing (fig. 1) showing a combination of pouncing and free-hand drawing: the areas of pouncing in the figural group of the Virgin and Child indicate a pattern transfer which was augmented by free-hand drawing, particularly noticeable in the parallel hatching of the drapery folds, in the architecture at top, and in the landscape. The basic pattern of the Virgin and Child, once drawn, would have been re-used in different versions of the composition, with variations to the final painted details of the costume and landscape. This method was typical of Joos van Cleve’s workshop practices. In the present work, the masterfully rendered figural group was painted by Joos himself, while the distant more loosely painted landscape was done by a different hand, probably a member of his workshop who specialized in landscape painting. This kind of collaboration between Joos and a landscape specialist is characteristic of the division of labor that became more common in the sixteenth century. Another version of this composition, in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest (oil on panel, 52.2 by 41.7 cm.) depicts the identical grouping of the Virgin and Child, with differences in the details of the Virgin’s costume, the brocaded pillow and the landscape.
Note on the provenance
This Virgin and Child was formerly in the celebrated collection of Rodolphe Kann (1854-1905) in Paris. He amassed one of the great private collections of the late 19th century which was housed in his grand residence on the Avenue d’Iéna. Following his death, the entire collection was purchased en bloc from his heirs in August 1907 by the renowned firm Duveen Brothers, who left the collection in situ and opened up the house to important clients. The enormous purchase price of nearly £900,000 (almost $5,000,000 according to the New York Times) sent shock waves through the art world.1 Many of the important works, such as Rembrandt’s Aristotle Contemplating the Bust of Homer (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Acc. No. 61.198), found their way into American collections and ultimately into American museums. The present work was purchased in 1921 by Mortimer L. Schiff (1877-1931), an American banker, collector and philanthropist. According to Schiff's records, he purchased the van Cleve from Kleinberger Gallery in New York, a firm that seems to have had a close working relationship with Duveen.2 Schiff was a partner in the investment banking firm of Kuhn, Loeb & Co. (1900-1931) and an early leader of the Boy Scouts of America, serving first as Vice-President, and elected as President of the organization shortly before his death. The painting has descended in his family to the present day.
Dr. Micha Leeflang will publish this painting as a work by Joos van Cleve in her forthcoming book Joos van Cleve: studio, production and distribution (Brepols Publisher, Turnhout/ New York, edited by Maryan Ainsworth).
1. C.B. Scallen, Rembrandt, Reputation, and the Practice of Connoisseurship, Amsterdam 2004, p. 205.
2. The Kleinberger Gallery in New York was located on lower Fifth Avenue, near the Duveen Gallery. Kleinberger's own correspondence files (unrelated to Duveen) were among the papers from Duveen given to the Metropolitan Museum and now at the Getty Research Institute.
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