PROPERTY FROM AN ENGLISH PRIVATE COLLECTION
The son of renowned still-life painter Pieter Claesz., Nicolaes Berchem was an important and influential figure of the Dutch Golden Age. Known primarily as a painter of Italianate landscapes and pastoral scenes popular among contemporary collectors, Berchem was also celebrated as an accomplished figure painter, even providing the staffage in works by such artists as Ruisdael and Hobbema. Berchem’s history paintings that treat allegorical and mythological subjects, as in this work, testify to his ambitions in the genre and were probably executed on commission.
Ovid's Metamorphoses, with its vivid descriptions of the lives and loves of the gods, enjoyed considerable popularity. Available in French translation and, from 1671, in Dutch, it was also published in editions with moralising commentaries addressed to Calvinist burghers. The appeal of this episode for its intended audience lies as much in the ambiguity of gender roles as it does in any moralising content about the adulterous adventures of the gods or the easy seduction of maidens.
The subject inspired a number of seventeenth-century Dutch and Flemish painters, notably Rubens, and during the following century its erotic possibilities would also be explored by artists such as Boucher and Fragonard in France. Another version of Berchem’s composition with the remains of a signature – also on canvas and of comparable height but narrower in width, thereby compressing the area with the eagle to the left of the figures (95 x 112.5 cm.) – was formerly in the collection of Hugh A. J. Munro of Novar (1797–1864) and sold at Christie's, London, on 9 December 1988, lot 86.
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