Lot 34
  • 34

Nicolaes Pietersz. Berchem

Estimate
60,000 - 80,000 GBP
bidding is closed

Description

  • Nicolaes Pietersz. Berchem
  • an album of twelve religious drawings
  • All black chalk;
    no. 7 signed, lower left: Berghem f

Provenance

All A. van den Bergh, Amsterdam, thence by descent to the present owners;
(no.1): sale, Amsterdam, P. de Haan et al, 9 March 1767, lot 266;
(no. 9): possibly sales, Amsterdam, 19 November 1764, lot 771 (to S. Fokke), his sale, Amsterdam, 6 December 1784, lot 461, and sale Leipzig, Weigel/Rost, 21 January 1795, lot 5609, and bears another, unidentified mark (L.1499);  
(nos. 9 and 12): also bear unidentified armorial collector's mark (not in Lugt, pre-1883)
all except no. 1 bear pre-war German customs stamp

Literature

A. Heppner, 'Nicolaes Berchem als Illustrator van het nieuwe Testament, Het Gildeboek 23, 1940, pp. 81-85;
A. Stefes, 'Nicolaes Pietersz. Berchem - Die Zeichnungen', unpublished PhD Diss., Bern 1997, cat. nos. IV/24-34  

Catalogue Note

Drawings by Nicolaes Berchem are hardly rare, but only a tiny proportion of those that are known depict religious subjects.  Rightly famed for his Italianate landscapes populated with happy herders, his historical and religious works form a numerically small but particularly interesting aspect of his work, with few parallels in the work of Berchem's Dutch contemporaries.  This album of twelve large, highly accomplished and mostly very well preserved drawings depicting episodes from the life of Christ and that of the Virgin constitutes the most complete and impressive record of the artist's abilities and achievements as an illustrator of religious subjects.  Though published already in 1940, this extremely important group of drawings has not been discussed in any subsequent literature. Dr. Annemarie Stefes, who dates the drawings late in Berchem's career, circa 1670, has, however considered them in her unpublished PhD dissertation, and we are very grateful to her for sharing her work with us.  

Berchem's interest in biblical subjects may have come from a period of training with Claes Cornelisz. Moeyaert, one of some six artists with whom he is supposed to have studied.  Whatever the inspiration, Berchem did make a number of religious paintings and drawings at various points in his career, one of the most notable being the signed and dated 1650 painting of Paul and Barnabas at Lystra, now in St. Etienne.1 An elaborate red and black chalk drawing for this painting is part of a rather heterogeneous group of religious and mythological drawings by Berchem in the Bremen museum, which was recently published by Annemarie Stefes.2  Otherwise, religious drawings by Berchem are few and far between.  One exception is a fine 1648 drawing of The Annunciation, now bound into a grangerized Bible in the Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery, San Marino, California; though not identical in composition, this drawing may relate to the frontispiece that Theodoor Matham later engraved after a design by Berchem, for a bible published by the Elzevier press in 1663.3 Also, around 1669 Berchem made a series of small drawings of religious subjects as designs for vignettes in the decorative borders of maps.4  But apart from these, only a very few religious drawings by the artist are known.

Why, then, did Berchem make this substantial series of large-scale, rather finished drawings?  Were they designs for prints, or perhaps for a cycle of paintings, or were they made as independent works of art in their own right?  And is the series of twelve drawings that we have today complete, or did they originally form part of a larger sequence?  Though several of the drawings have pin-holes in the corners, there is no other physical evidence to clarify these questions.  One might normally expect such finished drawings on this scale to have been made as print designs, but none of the drawings are indented, nor are any related prints known.  A school copy of the drawing of the Flight into Egypt from the present series, in the Leiden University print room (inv. 360), is partially squared for transfer, yet no painting is known with a similar composition.

For the time being, all these questions must remain unanswered.  Given the repetition of one of the subjects (The Annunciation to the Shepherds), and the fact that the other scenes from the lives of Christ and the Virgin that are represented in the drawings do not have any very clear thematic programme, it seems reasonable to assume that the drawings probably were once part of a larger series, but this does not necessarily mean that other similar drawings by Berchem himself ever existed, as publishers often employed several different artists to design the illustrations to a single book.  But whatever their function may have been, this group of drawings is the most complete surviving record of an important aspect of Berchem's work, which demonstrates how extremely accomplished he was as a religious draughtsman.

The sequence of the drawings, as currently mounted in the early 20th-century album, is as follows:

1)         Christ Disputing with the Doctors
2)         The Annunciation to the Shepherds
3)         The Visitation
4)         The Annunciation
5)         The Adoration of the Shepherds
6)         The Rest on the Flight into Egypt
7)         The Annunciation to the Shepherds
8)         The Presentation in the Temple
9)         The Adoration of the Magi
10)       The Flight into Egypt
11)       The Circumcision
12)       The Ascension

1. See Dutch Classicism, exh. cat., Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, and Frankfurt, St├Ądelsches Kunstinstitut, 1999-2000, cat. 44 reproduced
2. A. Stefes, 'Eleven History Drawings by Nicolaes Berchem', in Master Drawings, vol. 35, 1997, no. 4, pp. 367-79
3. See European Drawings from the Kitto Bible, exh. cat., San Marino, California, Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery, 1969-70, cat. 32
4. S.K. Bennett, 'Nine Religious Drawings by Nicolaes Berchem: Designs to Ornament Maps in a 1669 Bible,' The Hoogsteder Mercury 13/14 (1992), pp. 60-73