Lot 1
  • 1

Pieter Coecke van Aelst Aalst 1502 - 1550 Brussels

15,000 - 25,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Pieter Coecke van Aelst the Elder
  • two cartoon fragments of heads: a man in a turban and a bearded man looking upwards
  • both coloured chalks and and black wash with touches of gouache; pricked for transfer


According to lengthy inscriptions on the reverse of the backing sheets, and both frames:
Edward van Hove (artist);
Charles Mousset (member of the Chambre des Représentants);
Willem van den Bruel (Professor of Académie Royale des Beaux Arts, Brussels), by 1891


Both framed. Both laid down on stiff paper. Turbaned man: there is a large loss to the right side of the lower edge, and small losses along the left edge and upper right corner. The sheet has been folded vertically (at the centre), and appears to have been cut horizontally (leading from between the figure's eyes) which has caused further small losses. The surface is rubbed and there is surface dirt. Bearded man: There are losses thoughout the sheet (as seen in illustration), and various cracks in the paper, which has come away from the backing sheet in parts. The surface is quite rubbed and dirty and there are creases across the paper in several places. However, the fact that the drawings and colours have survived even this well is remarkable for tapestry cartoons.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

These newly-discovered cartoon fragments belong to a small group of known drawings by Coecke van Aelst, made in preparation for a series of nine tapestries, dated circa 1535, illustrating scenes from the life of St Paul.  A complete set of the tapestries is in Munich, divided between the Residenzmuseum and the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, and other versions are in Madrid, Vienna, Detroit and elsewhere.  These fragments relate to two different tapestries: the man in a turban to The Burning of the Books at Ephesus (fig.1; Munich and the Detroit Institute of Arts) and the bearded man to The Sacrifice at Lystra (fig. 2; Munich and the castle of Friedrichshof, near Cronberg).1

The subjects represented in the full tapestry series are: The Stoning of Saint Stephen, The Conversion of Saint Paul, The Sacrifice at Lystra, The Preaching of Paul at Philippi, The Burning of Books at Ephesus, The Taking of Saint Paul, Saint Paul before Agrippa, Saint Paul Bitten by the Snake at Malta and The Beheading of Saint Paul.  A rare, full size cartoon survives for one of the tapestries, The Beheading of Saint Paul (Brussels, Hôtel de Ville), and three fragments such as this are also known, all in the British Museum: two relate to The Conversion of Saint Paul, and one relates to The Sacrifice at Lystra (inv. no. 1887-6-13-65), showing the upper half of the figure of the old man standing beside the crouching bearded man for whom one of our fragments is preparatory.2  In fact, these two designs for The Sacrifice must have been cut down from the same sheet: the drapery visible in the upper right corner of our fragment continues the line of the British Museum figure's cloak as it hangs between his outstretched arms.  Compositional studies for most of the tapestries are known; a study for The Sacrifice at Lystra was sold at Sotheby's New York, 27 January 1999 (lot 16), but there is no such compositional study for The Burning of the Books at Ephesus, which makes our cartoon fragment of the turbaned man the only recorded design for the tapestry.

Coecke van Aelst's greatest contemporary as a Flemish designer of tapestry was the somewhat older Brussels artist Bernard van Orley, with whom Van Mander tells us Coecke studied, presumably prior to his entry into the Antwerp Guild of St Luke in 1527.  The influence of van Orley is readily apparent in Coecke's various series of tapestry designs, and it seems likely that the latter must have known works such as van Orley's celebrated Nassau Genealogy tapestries of circa 1530 (two of the designs for which were sold, Sotheby's New York, 10 January 1995, lot 152 and 153).  Unlike van Orley, however, Coecke also drew significant inspiration from Italian prototypes, Raphael in particular.  Although direct borrowings from Raphael's compositions are rare, a number of figures in Coecke's designs are freely adapted from various frescoes in the Vatican Stanze and Logge, and from the series of tapestries depicting The Acts of the Apostles commissioned from Raphael by Pope Leo X, the cartoons for which had been sent to Brussels in 1516-7 to be woven.  In 1520, the year of Raphael's death, Leo X commissioned from him a further tapestry series depicting The Life of Christ; for these, Raphael appears to have sent only summary sketches to Brussels, where not only the tapestries, but also the cartoons themselves must have been made, probably by a variety of Italian and Flemish artists.  As Marlier suggests, it is more than likely that one of the artists was Bernard van Orley, and even not inconceivable that Coecke van Aelst himself may have worked on the project, if he was indeed apprenticed to van Orley at the time.3  Whether or not Coecke actually was involved in developing these sketches by Raphael into the finished Life of Christ tapestries, what is abundantly clear is that he was intimately acquainted with many of Raphael's designs, both for frescoes and for tapestries, and was, throughout his career, greatly inspired by these works.

1. G. Marlier, Pierre Coeck d'Alost, Brussels 1966, pp. 310, 320, 322, figs. 258-9

2. Marlier, op.cit., pp. 45, 318-20, figs. 8, 255-257

3. Marlier, op.cit., p. 209