PROPERTY FROM A SPANISH PRIVATE COLLECTION
Acquired by the father of the present owner;
Thence by descent.
Hitherto unknown to scholars and unpublished, this exquisite copper is the largest and only dated version of one of Hendrick de Clerck's most popular compositions, of which the best known until now was in the collection of the Electors of Palatine and is now in Munich, Alte Pinakothek1. Another version is in the Museo del Prado, Madrid2. Both these versions have been variously dated between 1606-9, and the Munich picture specifically to 1608. The discovery of the present work however, dated 1613, would argue for a later dating than previously thought for both the Munich and Prado versions.
There is a painting of Abundance and the Four Elements in the Prado by De Clerck3, the landscape by Jan Brueghel the Elder, which Ertz also dates to 1606-09, based on a comparison with Brueghel's Allegory of the Four Elements in Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum, dated 16044. The present work, as well as those in Munich and the Prado, draws on this painting and employs the same general arrangement in the foreground, the figures of Water and Earth following a broadly similar design; with the remainder of the work, however, De Clerck adopts a more monumental approach, and a more schematic design. That he repeated this design on at least these three occasions seems to point to De Clerck having finally found a perfect equilibrium for the subject.
De Clerck and Alsloot were both court painters in Brussels, the former beginning his employment in 1594 under Archduke Ernest and continuing through his death in 1596 into the reign of Archdukes Albert and Isabella. Alsloot joined the court in 1599-1600. There are eight dated collaborative works between the two artists, to which a ninth can now be added. This work also provides evidence of their continued relationship into 1613 where previously they were thought to have ceased working together in 1612.
The Peeter Stas copper mark on the reverse can be dated circa 1610.5
A note on the provenance: although it has not been possible to trace the origin of the inventory number 1148 it is highly probable that the painting once belonged to an important Spanish collection, and one of significant size given that this picture featured as number 1148. The works of, in particular, Denijs van Alsloot, found great favour amongst Spanish collectors, probably as a result of his having worked for the Regents of the Spanish Netherlands, the Archdukes Albert (1559-1621) and Isabella Clara Eugenia (1566-1633). Unfortunately no inventory of their collection exists so most of the paintings executed for them by Alsloot and de Clerck remain unidentified.
1. Inv. no. 4534; another variant of the composition sold London, Sotheby's, 27 March 1974, lot 39 (as 'Hendrick de Clerck), although this was on panel and unsigned.
2. See A. Balis, M. Diáz Padrón et al., La Peinture Flamande au Prado, Antwerp 1989, p. 270, no. 73, reproduced.
3. Idem, pp. 134-5, no. 40, reproduced.
4. See K. Ertz, Jan Brueghel der Ältere, Cologne 1979, pp. 581-2, no. 145, reproduced fog. 438.
5. See M. K. Komanecky, Copper as canvas, exhibition catalogue, New York/ Osford 1999, p. 110, and p. 106, fig. 5.18.
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