PROPERTY FROM A SPANISH NOBLE FAMILY
By descent to Mariano Patricio de Guillamas y Galiano, 8th Marqués de San Felices, Grandee of Spain, Conde de Alcolea de Torote and Maestrante of Valencia (1801–1863);
Thence by descent and inheritance.
Probably the single most popular subject for panel painters in Antwerp in the early 16th century, the Adoration of the Magi permitted the artist to show off his skills in the depiction of exotic fabrics, jewellery and precious objects. The Magi themselves, as Dan Ewing has convincingly argued, may have had a special significance for rich Antwerp merchant traders of the period, their dazzling gifts from foreign lands symbolising the importance of foreign trade to this new and important group of art patrons.1 As Ewing states elsewhere, ‘The Adoration of the Magi is the defining subject of Antwerp Mannerist painting, its signature iconography… With its inherent combination of exoticism, high fashion, and the glamour of wealth, the Magi theme was a microcosm of the Mannerists' ‘preoccupation with ornament… and their simulation and imitation of luxury products’, to use Yao-Fen You’s apt description.’2
Amongst Pieter Coecke’s numerous treatments of this subject Marlier records two further versions of this particular arrangement of figures: one, the central panel of the ‘Palermo triptych,’ he gives to Pieter Coecke himself;3 the other, a stand-alone panel, he gives to another hand (formerly Wedewer collection).4 The Palermo triptych presents a slighter Virgin than that in the present panel and arguably less-mannered figures. It likely comes some years before the present example in Coecke’s chronology. The ex-Wedewer panel, though closest to the present composition, is less detailed and omits several figures such as the two shepherds seen through the arch to the left. The composition itself is loosely borrowed from Jan Mertens van Dornicke, Coecke’s teacher and eventual father-in-law.5 Van Dornicke’s version presents a remarkably similar setting and arrangement of figures.
Being a single panel rather than the central panel of a triptych like the Palermo version, this painting was very likely painted directly for sale on the open market as with, for example, various versions in public museums of another triptych on the theme in the Hester Diamond Collection, New York, that was recently exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.6 That the painting has been in the collection of the family of the present Spanish owner for several hundred years would strongly indicate that it was originally painted for export to the Spanish market, and may thus have spent its whole life in that country. Great numbers of panels by the Antwerp Mannerists were sent immediately to Spain, including the above-mentioned triptych by Pieter Coecke in the Diamond collection which was painted for a monastery in Cáceres.
1. See D. Ewing, 'An Antwerp Triptych': Three Examples of the Artistic and Economic Impact of the Early Antwerp Art Market', in Antwerp: Artworks and Audiences, Northampton, 1994; and D. Ewing, Magi and Merchants: Civic Iconography and Local Culture in Antwerp Adorations, 1505–1609, Mobile 2002.
2. D. Ewing, ‘Magi and Merchants: The Force behind the Antwerp Mannerists' Adoration Pictures’, in Jaarboek Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten Antwerpen, 2004–05, pp. 274–275, n. 4, where Yao-Fen You’s quote was an unpublished communication to Ewing in 2003.
3. G. Marlier, La Reniassance flamande. Pierre Coeck d’Alost, Brussels 1966, p. 167, reproduced p. 168, fig. 106.
4. Marlier 1966, p. 169, reproduced p. 168, fig. 107.
5. See the triptych in the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels: E. Cleland et al., Grand Design. Pieter Coecke van Aelst and Renaissance Tapestry, exhibition catalogue, New York 2014, p. 38, reproduced fig. 29.
6. Cleland et al., 2014, pp. 36–39, cat. no. 1.
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