In the present work, Adam and Eve are depicted within the Garden of Eden, surrounded by lush greenery, a gentle stream of water, and a few animals. The two are posed in a friendly embrace next to the Tree of Knowledge, Eve casually holding the forbidden fruit in her right hand, while Adam, with his right arm resting on the shoulder of his partner, reaches to pluck his own from the serpent whose body wraps around the trunk of the tree. Beyond the couple recedes a rolling vista, within which appear a few small figures, possibly depicting episodes from earlier in Adam and Eve’s narrative, including, perhaps, the creation of man and woman. From the softly blooming foliage in the foreground, to Eve’s golden hair, to the firm upward gaze of the two figures, this panel is an example of the extraordinary attention to detail characteristic not only of the oeuvre given to Isenbrant, but also of the most celebrated works to have come out of Bruges and its prosperous workshops in the early 16th century. Till-Holger Borchert and Dr. Max Martens have endorsed the attribution of the present work to Isenbrant, and Peter van den Brink has proposed that it might come from the artist's workshop.
The composition of this painting is based on the exterior wings of Jan Gossart’s famed Malvagna Triptych, which was possibly commissioned by the diplomat Antonio Siciliano, who was sent to the Netherlands in 1513 by the Duke of Milan, and is now housed in the Galleria Regionale della Sicilia, Palazzo Abtallis in Palermo (fig. 1).1 Recent examination of the Malvagna Triptych has suggested a collaboration with Gerard David, who is thought to have completed the landscape on the exterior wings, while Gossart completed the figures of Adam and Eve.2 In turn, the composition as a whole was inspired by Albrecht Dürer’s print of the same subject of 1511 from The Small Passion Series, which would have circulated throughout the Netherlands long before the German artist’s northern visit in 1520-1521 (fig. 2). Most of the copies and versions of the Malvagna Triptych can be linked to artists in Bruges, and it was here that Isenbrant likely would have made his own copies of the Malvagna Triptych before it left Bruges for Italy.3
In addition to the present work, there are various other versions known of this composition by Isenbrant and his workshop, including versions of the Adam and Eve group, including one in the Legion of Honor, San Francisco, as well as a faithful copy of the full triptych recorded by Friedländer as formerly being in the Pannwitz collection, but now as whereabouts unknown.4
This painting is composed of two vertical boards that likely once served as the outer wings to a small, devotional triptych. X-ray imaging reveals a clear join down the center of the work, and IRR imaging shows an underdrawing that does not cross the central join and is isolated to each panel. Further analysis of the minimal underdrawing under IRR reveals a dual approach to this composition, with a more freely handled landscape and more carefully articulated figures, as well as a number of small changes made to the figures as the artist worked to perfect the final composition, including the placement of Adam’s face, the position of Eve’s right hand, and the position of both of their feet (fig. 3).
We are grateful to Till Holger-Borchert, Dr. Max Martens, and Peter van den Brink for their assistance in cataloguing this lot.
1. See M. Ainsworth, ed., Man, Myth and Sensual Pleasures: Jan Gossart’s Renaissance, New York 2010, p. 136).
3. ibid., p. 139.
4. See M.J. Friedländer, Early Netherlandish Painting, vol. XI, Leiden, 1974, cat. no. 134, pp. 48, 81, reproduced plate 112.
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