This dramatic painting belongs to a group of late religious works executed by Eeckhout in the first half of the 1670s, just prior to his death in 1674. These works are all painted on a broadly similar scale and are usually designed along similar compositional lines. It is perhaps most closely related to two works in particular, both painted in the years immediately following the date of this work: The Tribute Money in Lille, Musée des Beaux-Arts, dated 1673;1 and The calling of St. Matthew in Munich, Alte Pinakothek, dated 1674.2 All three works are characterised by a stage-like setting, with a group of elderly figures behind a table at the right, the protagonists well lit in the centre, and a gradual recession to the left. Although undated, another painting can be added to this group, depicting Christ preaching in the temple, in The Hague;3 Sumowski dates this to circa 1671, based on a comparison with the upright picture from 1671, of the same subject as the present work, in Budapest, Szépmüvészeti Múzeum.4 The re-discovery of the present painting, unknown to Sumowski, reconfirms his dating of The Hague painting to circa 1671. It should be further noted that in all of these paintings several of the models recur; the figure of Simeon in the present painting, for example, is clearly drawn from the same model as the same character in the Budapest painting.
A note on the provenance: This painting last changed hands almost two hundred years ago when it was acquired by a descendant of the present owner at the sale of the 2nd Marquess of Bute in 1822. The Bute collection at Luton Park was formed for the most part by John Stuart, 3rd Earl Bute (1713-1792) who served as prime minister under George III from 1762-3. His was one of the greatest English collections of Old Masters. It was especially strong in Dutch 17th century paintings, including several examples of each of the great Dutch artists of the Golden Age such as Steen, Dou, De Hooch, Cuyp and Ostade to name but a few. There were at least three other paintings by Eeckhout, one of which, The Triumph of Haman, John Smith considered perhaps the artist's finest work.5
1. See W. Sumowski, Gemälde der Rembrandt-Schüler, vol. II, Landau/Pfalz 1983, p. 744, no. 486, reproduced p. 849.
2. Idem, p. 744, no. 487, reproduced p. 850.
3. Idem, p. 743, no. 478, reproduced p. 841.
4. Idem, p. 742, no. 476, reproduced p. 839.
5. J. Smith, A catalogue raisonné...,vol. VII, London 1836, pp. 246-7.