- Jan Miel
- Ceres, Bacchus and Venus ('Sine Cerere et Baccho friget Venus')
- signed and dated lower right : J: de Miel / peint. / 1645
- oil on canvas
- 56 1/8 x 64 1/8 inches
Jean-Baptiste Boyer, Marquis d'Éguilles, (c. 1650-1709), Aix-en-Provence;
Count F. C. Moltke, Copenhagen;
His sale, Copenhagen, Winkel and Magnussen, 1-2 June 1931, lot 84;
Since then in a private collection, Copenhagen;
Anonymous sale ("Property of a Lady and a Gentleman"), London, Christie's, 13 December 1996, lot 117;
There purchased by the present collector.
Première partie des tableaux du cabinet de Msre J.B. Boyer, Chevalier seigneur D'Aguilles...Gravez par Seb. Barras et Jac. Coelemans, Aix-en-Provence 1709, (with an engraving by Jacques Coelemans);
P.-J. Mariette, ed. Recueil d'estampes, d'après les tableaux des peintres les plus célèbres d'Italie, des Pays-Bas et de France, qui composaient le cabinet de M. Boyer d'Aguilles, procureur général du roi au parlement d'Aix (i.e. Pierre Jean de Boyer, Marquis d'Argens); gravées par Jacques Coelemans....par les soins et sous la direction de M. Jean Baptiste Boyer d'Aguilles, conseiller au même parlement. Avec une description de chaque tableau, et le caractere de chaque peintre, Paris 1744 (with Coelemans' engraving);
A.J. Dezaillier D'Argenville, Abrégé de la vie des plus fameux peintres, II, Paris 1745, p. 179;
Catalogus des Tableaux de la Collection du Comte Moltke, Copenhagen 1913, no. 22;
A. von Wurzbac, Niederländisches Künstler-Lexikon, II, Vienna and Leipzig, 1910, p. 161;
U. Thieme, F. Becker, ed. "Jan Miel" in Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler, vol. XXIV, Leipzig, 1930, p. 537;
T. Kren, Jan Miel (1599-1664), a Flemish Painter in Rome, Yale University Ph. D. Thesis, 1978, vol. I, p. 134, note 1, vol. II, pp. 140-1, no. A111 (as untraced, with incorrect measurements).
Sebastian Barras (1653-1703), mezzotint, (A.P.F. Robert-Dumesnil), Le peintre-graveur français, IV, Paris 1839, p. 241, no. 21.
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."
This magnificent painting by Jan Miel is a masterpiece of the artist's mature style. It was painted at a time when Miel was making a dramatic shift away from the genre scenes that occupied his earlier years in Rome to the more classicized figurative work of his later years. Both in terms of the composition and painterly execution it more than justifies his change to the "gran maniera". With his masterful command of space, Miel has created a clarity of composition which is rooted in his pared-back depiction of the figures close to front of the picture plane. The prodigious amount of flesh on show, the textures of Bacchus's leopard rug and the fur of the animal itself, the luscious ears of corn and the beautifully rendered swathes of material all add to the overall impression of sensuality and decadence. Venus acts as the unifying figure in the group, standing behind both Bacchus and Ceres with her hand placed on the latter's shoulder whilst she tenderly gazes at the former. Her gentleness of gaze is mirrored by Bacchus who looks lovingly at Ceres who also has an enrapt look on her face. It is this exchange of gaze that elevates the painting from the lascivious and places it into a more contemplative realm. The three central figures are very much preoccupied with their interaction and it is only the figure of Cupid on the far left who gazes out at the viewer enticing them into the scene.
The theme of Sine Cerere et Baccho Friget Venus— literally, "without Ceres or Bacchus, Venus would freeze"— is derived from a line in Act IV of The Eunuch, a comedy written in 161 BC by the Roman dramatist Terence. A canny observation on physical love, which is always helped by good food and drink, the subject became popular amongst Flemish painters in the seventeenth century, and was treated by artists such as Pieter Paul Rubens, Abraham Janssens, Hendrick van Balen and Jacob Jordaens, to name but a few.1 Typically in these compositions, Bacchus, the god of wine, and Ceres, the goddess of agriculture, both display their attributes (a bunch of grapes and a sheaf of corn respectively) to Venus, who is often accompanied by Cupid. Interestingly, the subject was much less popular south of the Alps and Jan Miel appears to be one of the few artists who painted the subject in Italy.2
Earlier in his career, Miel made his name as one of the Bamboccianti, a group of Northern artists active in Rome in the 1630s around Pieter van Laer (nick-named Bamboccio), who specialized in small works depicting low-life scenes set in the Roman campagna. They were derided by Italian artists such as Andrea Sacchi, Salvator Rosa and Francesco Albani for their base subject matter. Such criticism obviously had a profound effect on Miel who by 1641 was documented in the studio of Andrea Sacchi. Over the next decade he abandoned his earlier style and turned his hand to the more elevated practice of history painting. There are a number of identifiable works from the 1650s in this vein such as an altarpiece of The Madonna and Child with Saints in the Duomo di Santa Maria della Scala in Chieri dating from 1651.3
Although part of the famous collection of Count Moltke (see Provenance), the present painting had been unseen and largely ignored by critics until it appeared at auction London in 1996. Dated 1645, its re-emergence has prompted a re-dating of some of Miel's other history paintings. Scholars now believe the artist must have been producing history and mythological paintings, inspired by his study under Sacchi, much earlier than suggested by the examples of the 1650s mentioned above. For example, the Laban looking for Idols hidden by Rachel (sold New York, Christie's, 26 January 2001, lot 151) can be dated to the mid 1640s like the present work. Miel's admission to the Accademia di San Luca in 1648 is further testament to the fact that he must have been producing history paintings by this date; he was the first Northern artist to be admitted, a signal honour denied his fellow Bamboccianti, which would never been given had he still been producing peasant scenes.
A note on the Provenance
The first recorded owner of this painting was Jean-Baptiste Boyer, Marquis d'Éguilles who lived in Aix-en-Provence and was an avid patron of the arts. He developed friendships with a number of leading artists of the day including Pierre Paul Puget with whom he visited Italy to build his collection. He was also an amateur artist and engraver, and the two volume series of engravings of his collection, in which the present painting is featured, included six plates engraved by the Marquis himself.
1. See M. Jaffe, Rubens. Catalogo Completo, Milan 1989, pp. 184, 192, nos. 191 and 234 and A. Pigler, Barockthemen, vol. II, Budapest 1974, pp. 51-2.
2. A. Pigler, Barockthemen, vol. II, Budapest 1974, pp. 51-2.
3. See Diana Trionfatrice. Arte di Corte nel Piemonte del Seicento, exhibition catalogue, Turin 1989, pp. 196-7, cat. no. 222, reproduced.