Lot 2
  • 2

Guillaume Benson

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  • Guillaume Benson
  • The Virgin and Child
  • Oil on oak panel, shaped top 


Bacci Collection, Paris;

Chillingworth Collection, Lucerne;

Sale; Fischer, Lucerne, 22 September 1922, lot 4;

With Galerie Bohler, Zurich;

With Galerie Heinemann, Munich, 1926-29;

Baron Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, Castagnola, from 1930

By family descent until sold London, Sotheby's, 6 December 1995, lot 69 (as “Master of the Bentinck-Thyssen Virgin”, the name given by Dirk de Vos.);

Private Collection, London;

Private Collection.


Munich, Neue Pinakothek, Sammlung Schloss Rohoncz, 1930, no. 165.

Düsseldorf, Kunstmuseum, Die Sammlung Bentinck-Thyssen, 23 October 1970 – 3 January 1971, no. 59.

Lausanne, Fondation de l’Hermitage, 1986; Paris, Musée Marmottan, 1986; Tokyo, Kumamoto-Toyama-Miyagi, 1986; Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, 1987; Luxembourg, Musée de l’Etat, 1987; La Collection Bentinck-Thyssen, de Breughel à Guardi, no. 4.

Bruges, Memlingmuseum, Bruges et la Renaissance: Memling to Pourbus, 15 August – 6 December 1998, no. 66.

On loan to the Groeningemuseum, Bruges from 2008 - 2013.


E. von Bodenhausen, Gerard David und seine Schule, Munich, 1905, p. 215, no. 73.

Advertisement in International Studio, August 1929, vol. XCII, p. 20 (illustrated).

M.J. Friedländer, Die Altniederländische Malerei: Die Antwerpener Manieristen, Adriaen Ysenbrant, Berlin, 1933, vol. XI, p. 137, no. 191a (as “Isenbrandt”).

R. Heinemann, Stiftung Sammlung Schloss Rohoncz, Lugano and Castagnola, 1937, vol. I, p. 77, no. 208; vol. II, reproduced pl. 82.

G. Marlier, Ambrosius Benson et la peinture à Bruges au tempe de Charles-Quint, Damme, 1957, pp. 211-12, no. 187.

M.J. Friedländer, Early Netherlandish Painting: The Antwerp Mannerists, Adriaen Ysenbrant, Leyden and Brussels, 1974, vol. XI, p. 89, no. 191a, reproduced plate 141, as Isenbrandt.

R. Andrée, Kunstmuseum Düsseldorf – Malerei, Düsseldorf, 1976, no. 2.

J.C. Wilson, Adriaen Isenbrandt reconsidered: The making and marketing of art in sixteenth century Bruges, PhD diss., Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, 1983, pp. 34-36, 44, no. 25, 193, 198.

J.C. Wilson, Painting in Bruges at the close of the Middle Ages: studies in society and visual culture, 1998, p. 198.

T.H.  Holger-Borchert in P. Huvenne and M.P.J. Martens eds., Bruges et la Renaissance: Memling to Pourbus, exhibition catalogue, Bruges, 1998, p. 158, no. 66, reproduced p. 160.

T. H. Holger-Borchert in P. Huvenne and M.P.J. Martens eds., Bruges et la Renaissance: Memling to Pourbus,- notices, exhibition catalogue, Bruges 1998, p. 97, no 66.

Catalogue Note

This beautiful painting of The Virgin and Child was painted by Guillaume Benson, eldest son of Ambrosius Benson, who was active in Bruges during the third quarter of the 16th century. The attribution to Benson was endorsed by Till Holger-Borchert following the work’s inclusion in the seminal exhibition Bruges et la Renaissance: Memling to Pourbus, held at the Memlingmuseum in Bruges in 1998, which provided the opportunity to compare it directly alongside other works by the artist, including a signed painting from the Royal Collection at Hampton Court. As well as being an outstanding example of a devotional panel by an independent master working in the tradition of Gerard David, the picture also enjoys a highly distinguished provenance, having belonged for much of the 20thcentury to the eminent collector Baron Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, whose collection formed the basis of the great museum that bears his family name in Madrid. 

The present design is known in at least two other variants, each of which share the same distinctive motif of the Christ Child holding open the page in his mother’s breviary, taken from Rogier van der Weyden’s Duran Madonna, today in the Prado Museum. The two variants, both recorded as in private collections in Spain, are smaller in size and form the central panel of a triptych, indicating the likely function of the present work.[1] That in the collection of the Marqueses de Camporeal, Madrid reveals certain changes to the physiognomy of the sitters and shape of the Virgin’s head and in this regard appears to have been directly influenced by the outer wings of The Triptych of Jean des Tromps, also known as the Baptism Triptych, by Gerard David, today in the Groeningemuseum, Bruges.

As pointed out by Till Holger-Borchert in his entry to the 1998 Bruges exhibition, the present work’s close similarities to one of David’s most celebrated works firmly indicated its likely production in Bruges, whilst the high quality of execution suggested an independent and talented master working in the entourage of Ambrosious Benson and Adrien Isenbrant, to whom Friedländer assigned all three versions, although at the same time noting the clear stylistic affinities of the present work with Ambrosius Benson.

It was Jean Wilson however, following close study of The Virgin and Child in the Kunstmuseum in Düsseldorf in 1983, who first associated the picture with the hand of Guillaume Benson, eldest son of Ambrosius, whose artistic activity between 1544 and 1574 had only relatively recently been re-established, following the discovery of key documents. The central work on which the artist’s oeuvre can be constructed is the aforementioned Nativity, signed with his monogram ‘GB’, in the Royal Collection at Hampton Court, which is inspired by a painting of the subject by Isenbrandt, to whom the Royal Collection picture had also been given prior to the emergence of the monogram.

 In his 1957 book on Ambrosius Benson et la peinture a Bruges at tempe de Charles-Quint, Georges Marlier attributes five other paintings to Guillaume Benson, including that of The Virgin in Toledo Cathedral. Wilson rightly pointed out clear stylistic affinities between the present work and those given to Guillaume Benson by Marlier, including distinctive characteristics such as the fall of the Virgin’s hair across the front of her shoulders in regular curls, the extremely fine and thin way in which her eyebrows are painted with one stroke of a brush, and her large eyes that are slightly open, revealing large pupils. Wilson’s acute observations and association of the present work with the hand of Guillaume Benson was subsequently fully endorsed at the time of the 1998 exhibition in Bruges, when it was possible for scholars to examine The Virgin and Child alongside the monogrammed Nativity from the Royal Collection and thereby confirm the work to be by the hand of Guillaume Benson.

In around 1930 The Virgin and Child entered into the collection of Baron Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, who during the 1920s and 1930s assembled one of the greatest collections of Old Masters put together during the 20th century. Born in 1875, Heinrich was the third son of the iron and steel magnate August Thyssen (1842 – 1926). He married the daughter of the Hungarian Baron Bornemisza in 1906 and became a Hungarian citizen, subsequently purchasing the Bornemisza castle at Rohoncz. In 1932 he moved to Switzerland, having acquired the Villa Favorita at Castagnola, near Lugano, from Prince Leopold of Prussia. It was there that he was able to display his growing collection of paintings, which he acquired with the advice of his many art historian friends, including Bernard Berenson, Max Friedländer, Friedrich Dörnhofer and Rudolf Heinemann. Baron Thyssen bought enthusiastically during the years 1928-30, mainly from German dealers, although he also purchased at auction and from private collectors. The Thyssen Collection was particularly strong in the work of early German and Netherlandish artists. Following his death in 1947, the collection was divided amongst his children and this painting belonged to the group inherited by his son Baron Hans Heinrich, that was then passed onto his granddaughter Gabrielle. Prior to its sale at Sotheby’s in 1995, it was on permanent loan at the Kunstmuseum, Düsseldorf, and more recently, from 2008 until 2013, it was on loan to the Groeningemuseum in Bruges.

We are grateful to Till Holger-Borchert for endorsing the attribution to Guillaume Benson.


1. See M.J. Friedländer, Early Netherlandish Painting, The Antwerp Mannerists Adriaen Ysenbrant, Leyden and Brussels 1974, vol. XI, p. 89, nos. 191 and 191b, reproduced plate 141.