Lot 9
  • 9

Pieter Aertsen Amsterdam 1507/8 - 1575

30,000 - 40,000 GBP
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  • Pieter Aertsen
  • the crucifixion
  • pen and black ink and brown wash, heightened with white, within a drawn frame with a shaped top


Bears unidentified armorial collector's mark, verso (not in Lugt)


Laid down. Horizontal line across centre, probably indicating sheet was one folded in half. Some minor discolouration and staining in background, just below this crease. Small repaired tears, lower left edge, and larger one, upper right edge (by bottom of ladder). Some minor surface abrasions and light stains and foxing, especially towards top, but overall condition good, fresh and strong. Unframed.
"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

This exceptional, finished compositional modello is both highly original in its composition and extremely personal in its style and draughtsmanship.  Though broadly in keeping with mid-16th century Netherlandish pictorial traditions, it contains a number of motifs that identify the draughtsman as an extremely creative and original artist: particularly notable are the way in which one of the crucified thieves is visible only from the knees down, the sensual yet symbolic way in which the male figure below the cross comforts the standing woman, while his foot rests on a skull, and the inclusion of the image of the face of Christ on St. Veronica's veil, which is very unusual in the context of a Crucifixion.

Stylistically, a number of features of the drawing are very striking.  The first is the refined, calligraphic pen-work.  As Peter Schatborn has noted in a letter to the present owner, "typical for Aertsen's drawing are the long outlines and the groups of hatchings, especially to strengthen parts that have been washed with the brush."  This pen-work is combined with meticulously applied and highly sculptural white heightening.  Particularly in some foreground figures, the heightening, in conjunction with the figures' poses, serves to give them a somewhat classicising quality, which is in sharp contrast to the much more summary treatment and purely northern feeling of the numerous animated figures in the background.  Most distinctive of all, however, are the extremely personal facial types and long-fingered hands, found throughout the drawing, but perhaps most clearly visible in the figure of God the Father, and in the two male figures standing at the very edges of the foreground figure group. 

Facial features like these are found in the drawings of only two artists, Pieter Aertsen and his close associate Joachim Beuckelaer.  Initial steps towards the definition of the drawing styles of these two masters were made by Wouter Kloek some years ago1, but he was only able to assemble a preliminary corpus of 18 rather disparate drawings by Aertsen, and even fewer by Beuckelaer, since when hardly anything has been published that helps clarify the situation.  Amongst the drawings published by Kloek, the more elaborate studies are mostly by Beuckelaer, and include a series of four grisailles2, a large stained glass design, in Hamburg3, and a slightly smaller, but very carefully finished, 1652 compositional drawing of The Last Judgement, in Berlin4.  Yet close comparison between those drawings and the present sheet shows that Beuckelaer, when producing a substantial compositional drawing, does not approach either the rather classicising elegance and refinement seen here, or the originality of imagination.

Aertsen, however, is a different story.  From his earliest known works, such as the Jan van der Biest Triptych of 1545-65, Aertsen's paintings demonstrate many of the qualities for which this drawing is notable.  The drawings that survive from his hand are mostly less ambitious than the present work, but comparison with studies such as the Entombment in the Uffizi6, the sketch, in Göttingen, for a window depicting the Resurrection7, or the Saint Martin and the Beggar, in Munich8, reveal striking similarities of approach and handling.  The Munich sheet is, however, the only drawing by Aertsen which can be connected with a known painting.  It is a study for the exterior of the left wing of an altarpiece in the church of St. Leonard, Zoutleeuw (Belgium) - an altarpiece which, interestingly, has a similarly shaped top to that seen in this Crucifixion - but despite its connection, the Munich drawing remains much less elaborate and ambitious than the present work.  These comparisons, taken together with our knowledge of his paintings, demonstrate not only that this previously unrecorded modello is clearly by Pieter Aertsen, but also that it is one of the most important of the very small number of known drawings by the artist, probably executed in the earlier part of his career, as a presentation drawing intended to impress a potential patron with his exceptional abilities. 

The attribution has been independently confirmed by both Peter Schatborn and Holm Bevers. 


1. W. Kloek, 'De tekeningen van Pieter Aertsen en Joachim Beuckelaer', Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek 40 (Pieter Aertsen), 1989, pp. 129-166.

2. Kloek, pp. 160-162, nos. B.9a-9d.

3. Kloek, pp. 159-60, no. B.8.

4. Kloek, pp.155-7, no. B.3.

5. Reproduced Pieter Aertsen, op. cit., p. 2, fig. 1.

6. Kloek, p. 141, no. A.7.

7. Kloek, pp. 145-6, no. A.12.

8. Kloek, pp. 142-3, no. A.9.