- Jan Massys
- An allegory of Charity
- oil on panel
Anonymous sale, Paris, Galerie Georges Petit, 14-15 June 1920, lot 22 (as Flemish School of the 17th century);
Anonymous sale, Paris, Tajan, Drouot Montaigne, 28 June 1994, lot 6, where acquired by the present owner.
U. Thieme and F. Becker, Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler von der Antike bis zur Gegenwart. 37, Leipzig 1930, vol XXIV, p. 227;
M.J. Friedländer, Die altniederländische Malerei, Berlin/Leiden 1936, vol XIII, p. 144, no. 39;
M.J. Friedländer, Early Netherlandish Painting, Leiden/Brussels 1975, vol XIII, p.77, no. 39, reproduced plate 20;
L. Buijnsters-Smets, Jan Massys een Antwerps schilder uit de zestiende eeuw, Zwolle 1995, pp.180-1, cat. no. 26, reproduced in colour p. 121.
The following condition report is provided by Sarah Walden, who is an external specialist and not an employee of Sotheby's.
This painting is on a presumably oak panel, which has been backed and cradled. There are four joints. The upper joint runs across Charity’s head with a band of rather discoloured retouching, the second jojnt also has a band of discoloured retouching crossing at the level of the waist, the next joint just below Charity’s fingers appears only to have been retouched towards the left side, with the lowest joint seeming just to have narrow retouchings. The cradling does not seem to have prevented movement or to have completely stabilised the paint. There are a few unstable areas, including down the centre, with a patch of old and recent raised flaking in the little hand of the putto on her chest where there has been past retouching. The raised arm of the lower putto is similarly unstable as is the paint rather lower in the centre of the skirt, and a few other places need consolidation.
Uneven old cleaning has left patches with far older varnishes, but there have also been one or two little openings in the varnish, such as in the flowery garden at lower right, showing the remarkably beautiful state of the underlying paint. The modelling of the main figures is ravishingly intact and unworn.
The upper sky was repainted, presumably with a change in taste a century or so later, covering up what seems to have been more, perhaps Italianate, figures with a focus of almost religious light in rays coming from the upper centre (just visible in the narrow strip along the top edge). The water seems to have also been repainted at the same time.
Retouching can be seen in some places, such as down the right edge in particular, along the joints as mentioned above and occasionally elsewhere but the exquisite quality of the original figures with all the glazing intact is rarely found in such perfect condition.
This report was not done under laboratory condition.
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Jan was the eldest of Quentin Massys' ten children by his second wife Catharina Heyns. His name does not appear in the list of apprentices of the Antwerp painters' guild and it is probable therefore that he received his training from his father, who was not obliged to register his own son. He became an independent master in Antwerp immediately following his father's death in 1531. In 1538 he married Anna van Tuylt and in 1544 was suspected of heresy and exiled, not returning until 1555. Much conjecture surrounds his likely whereabouts during his decade of exile but, given there are no dated or surviving documented works from before his expulsion, it is impossible to firmly establish a picture of his early style, and thus what influences he might have succumbed to during his exile. Friedländer makes a case for a stay in Italy and, separately, for one in France: certainly the influence of the school of Fontainebleau is palpable in his mature work. Generally it is accepted that his pre-exile output is firmly rooted in the style of his father. His only dated work from his exile is the overtly italianate Madonna and child
in the Palazzo Bianco, Genoa, of 1552.1
Many of the paintings from his 'second Antwerp period' after 1555 are dated, thus facilitating the chronology of his later works.
Jan had a particular interest in the female form and is perhaps best known for his semi-naked, often heavily bejewelled, and large-scale women in the guise of Susanna, Judith, Venus, the daughters of Lot or, as here, a personification of Charity. His protagonists often sit or stand in a highly stylised setting, before palaces, balustrades, and exotic luxury in the form, here as commonly, of a palm tree. The theme of Charity allowed Massys to explore the Mannerist maxim of intertwining forms, though he never fully escaped the stiffer poses of the prior generation and his smooth, enamel-like technique is forever rooted in that of his father. Buijnsters-Smet sees the present depiction of Charity as inspired by Italian classical forms, such as the Madonna and child of Andrea Solario, a copy of which is in the National Gallery, London, and she sees the slightly smaller, but very similar, Charity in the Palazzo Bianco in Genoa as linked to Raphael's Madonna dell'Impannata in Palazzo Pitti, Florence.2 Both works should be dated to the same moment as the aforementioned 1552-dated Madonna and child in the Palazzo Bianco, Genoa.
1. See Buijnsters-Smets, under Literature, pp. 178-9, cat. no. 24.
2. Ibid., pp. 181-3, cat. no. 27, reproduced.