Nature Morte française du XVIIe siècle à nos jours, Galerie Charpentier (76 Faubourg Saint-Honoré, Paris), 1951, rep. dans le catalogue;
DF. Lach, Asia in the making of Europe, Chicago – Londres, The University of Chicago Press, 1970, vol. II, reproduit p. 144;
J. Ehrmann, « Artistes franco-flamands de l'école de Fontainebleau et actes notariaux sur la famille d'Antoine Caron », dans Bulletin de la Société de l'Histoire de l'Art Français, Paris, 1972, pp. 73-74;
This is the only known signed work by Simon Myle (it is signed and dated "Simone de Myle inventor and fecit 1570") and is thus the only known work certain to be from his hand. Unfortunately only very little is known of the life of Simon de Myle. He may be from the family Van der mijl (also written Myle, or Meijl or Meyle) from the south of Holland. The name of this family is intimately linked to the mansion " De Mijl" near Dordrecht, whose first known owner was Heijnrik Claasz van der Mijl.
Simon de Myle's style of painting confirms his presumed northern origins. It recalls the Flemish mannerists, especially those influenced by Italian painting, many of whom visited Italy itself. They brought back to the north a taste for classical forms in both the architectural settings of their paintings and the sculptural and elongated proportions of their figures.
This taste for la bella maniera described by Vasari, is evident in one of the works attributed to Simon Myle, Christ before Pilate and Caiaphas, sold in New York, Sotheby's, 29 May 2003, lot 71. Here the faces, especially those of Christ and Pontius Pilate, are fairly typical of the anatomical type of Simon Myle: the head is small compared with the proportions of the body, the profile of the face is elongated and the eyes are small and sunken, all characteristics that we see particularly in the female characters of the present painting (the wife of Noah and the wife of one of his sons).
In addition to his Flemish influences it is possible that Simon de Myle had visited painters at Fontainebleau. John Ehrmann (op.cit.) saw De Myle's style as close to the that of Antoine Caron (1521-1599), an artist active during the reign of Henry II and the major representative, alongside the Italian painters Primaticcio and Nicolo dell 'Abate, of the Renewal School of Fontainebleau. For this reason it has sometimes been argued that Simon de Myle was a French artist.
This picture is remarkable for its quality and state of conservation and the originality of its design. Indeed, preference was usually given to the representation of the Construction of the ark, or to the Entrance of the animals into the ark, the Flood or of the Drunkenness of Noah. In the second half of the sixteenth century and into the seventeenth the Entrance of the animals into the ark was very popular for it provided a pretext for the portrayal of diverse animal species on earth; see for example Jan Brueghel the Elder's 1613 treatment of this subject in the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. De Myle has chosen to represent the disembarkation of animals from the ark after its running aground on Ararat. This gave de Myle no less opportunity for the depiction of a variety of wonderful creatures. Eric Mickeler, specialist in natural history, has informed us about de Myle's potential sources for some of these in 1570.
Thanks to de Myle's concern for realism, an ornithologist can easily recognize the Ara of Cuba, discovered by Christopher Columbus, which has been extinct since the 19th century, as well as the turkey and the Muscovy duck, both of which came from North America. Others we see are the guinea fowl, which is native to Africa, the peacock from India and an ibis which had already been represented in Egyptian civilization.
The animal that attracts the most attention is the rhinoceros. The artist was inspired by the engraving by Albrecht Dürer, dated 1515, of the rhinoceros presented by the Sultan of Cambay to the King Manuel the first of Portugal. Dürer was aware of the animal through a drawing made by Valentin Ferdinand, and represented it as something fantastic, with a narwhal tusk curiously emerging from the neck. This tusk, also used here by Myle, would remain the norm until first hand knowledge of the animals came in 1577. The elephants are Asian elephants recognizable by their small ears and the two prominent bumps on the top of the skull, and were at that time to be found in the menageries of some European courts. Leo X, for example, owned an Asian elephant called Hanno, which had been given to him by King Manuel I of Portugal, and this was depicted by one of Raphael's pupils on one of the doors of the Room of the Signature in the Vatican. Several drawings of the elephant also survive, including that in the Ashmolean Museum of Oxford attributed to Giulio Romano.
Although he was clearly at pains to realistically depict the animals in this work, Simon Myle also represented a number of purely mythical beasts. As Mickeler points out, until 1702, people truly believed in the existence of griffins, dragons and unicorns, and thus in 1570 it was natural for Myle to include them in his depiction of Noah's ark. According to legend the unicorn had declined Noah's invitation to climb aboard the Ark because she felt strong enough to cope with the deluge alone. She swam for forty days. On the last day, when the waters began to recede, an eagle landed on her horn. The weight of the bird proved too much for the exhausted unicorn, which drowned. No doubt Myle was unaware of this popular legend, otherwise one wonders whether he would have represented the unicorn on board the ark.
The artist has added a profusion of entertaining details such as the cat in the right foreground holding a sardine in his mouth, the lion, just released, tucking in to a grey white horse, or even a chimera devouring a man on the path that winds into the distance. The landscape is littered with countless vestiges of the civilization wiped out by the flood, such as coat racks, wagon wheels, shovels, a hammer, shoes and so on, as diverting to us today as they were no doubt to Myle's contemporaries. Similarly, his depiction of the landscape , with its wavy hills and deposits of algae, clearly mirrors the departed sea. The contorted mountains recall his Flemish heritage and the works of Joachim Patinier or Henri Bles.
This Noah's Ark remains to date the only known work by Simon de Myle, and thus far the unique and exceptional testament to his talent. It may thus constitute the starting point for the recognition of a remarkable oeuvre that remains as yet in its infancy.
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