Lot 5
  • 5

Marten van Cleve the Elder

150,000 - 250,000 GBP
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  • Marten van Cleve the Elder
  • A village celebrating the Kermesse of Saint Sebastian, with an outdoor wedding feast with guests bringing gifts
  • oil on oak panel


In the collection of the maternal grandmother of the present owner by the 1950s;
Thence by descent.


The following condition report is provided by Hamish Dewar who is an external specialist and not an employee of Sotheby's: Structural Condition The panel is not cradled and has five horizontal lines of rectangular batons on the reverse and in the past has had four vertical lines of butterfly inserts which have been subsequently removed. The panel is only very slightly bowed on the upper edge and seems generally secure . A number of horizontal panel joins and repaired splits are visible. There are some very minor flecks of paint loss and equally minimal blistering on the upper panel join which is approximately 30 cm below the upper horizontal edge. There are other very small flecks of paint loss. Paint Surface The paint surface has a rather uneven varnish layer. Inspection under ultra-violet light shows the varnish layers to have discoloured suggesting that cleaning would be very beneficial. Ultra-violet light also shows three horizontal lines of inpainting along the three panel joins, as well as lines of inpainting covering repaired cracks running in from the upper left and upper right vertical edges. There are also retouchings on other much smaller repaired cracks and small scattered retouchings throughout the composition. There may well be other retouchings beneath the old opaque varnish layers which are not easily identifiable under ultra-violet light. Summary The painting would therefore appear to be in essentially good condition and should benefit considerably from cleaning and localised structural consolidation.
"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."

Catalogue Note

Marten van Cleve belongs to the generation between Pieter Bruegel the Elder and Pieter Brueghel the Younger, who was an infant when his father died prematurely. Although his œuvre and the scope of his workshop remain ill-defined, Van Cleve seems to have been the principal intermediary in the medium of paint (as opposed to the graphic arts) through which the Bruegel pictorial tradition passed from father to son. Van Cleve has a noticeably warmer palette than either Brueghel, with a clear liking for the russet red tones seen in skirts, trousers and other fabrics throughout this picture.  

This large panel combines three different subjects. The outdoor wedding feast with peasants dancing, which occupies the lower left quarter of the panel, is a subject that Marten van Cleve took over from Pieter Bruegel the Elder, and of which Pieter Brueghel the Younger was to paint many copies in the 17th century. Several versions by Marten van Cleve directly dependent on the Elder Bruegel’s prototype are listed by Klaus Ertz.1 The form that the subject takes here appears however to be unique to Marten van Cleve. In the left foreground a couple is carrying a basket between them, while he holds a baton aloft. While the scene is coherent, it includes a separate subject, the Bringing of Wedding Gifts, and it is this which is Marten van Cleve’s unique contribution to the subject matter. Van Cleve painted several small scale versions of the Bringing of Wedding Gifts, excluding the dance, and thus independent of the Outdoor Wedding Dance, at least one of which includes the child seen from the back with arms aloft.2  

Although Pieter Brueghel the Younger was to treat this subject, the only works accepted as by him are of a completely different composition. Versions similar to the present treatment have been attributed to Pieter Brueghel the Younger, but all have been rejected by Klaus Ertz, who gives the source of the composition to Marten van Cleve. Across the table sits the father of the bride recording the gifts with a quill and paper. He is a familiar figure from the Brueghel family Outdoor Wedding Dance, where he stands aloof from the dance to the left of the swirling figures. The dancing figures differ completely from Bruegel’s original, both in composition and in the individual dancers, and it would thus appear that both the composition and the elements that comprise it are entirely of Van Cleve’s own devising. Ertz lists five treatments of the combined Outdoor Wedding Dance and the Bringing of Wedding Gifts, all of which correspond in key respects to the present picture.3 Although they are all on much smaller panels than the present work, they are all of approximately the same dimensions: circa 73 by 105 cm. This suggests a common traced design, and the same design could have been used for the corresponding quadrant of the present work, since the figural groups correspond closely in size and in relation to each other. The other versions also include the thatched barn and gable end of a farmhouse beyond, and the tower, which is probably the entrance gateway to the farmyard, as well as the repoussoir tree to the left. These elements also occur in a drawing by Van Cleve of this subject in Vienna, generally dated circa 1570.4

A wooden fence and the banks of a small stream running on a receding diagonal separate the Wedding Feast from the Kermesse, and a tree in the centre divides the composition in two. Several of Van Cleve’s Kermesses are divided in a similar manner, although the others do not include a Wedding Feast. The right-hand half of this composition is filled with throngs of people celebrating the Feast of Saint Sebastian in an extended open space in the middle of a large village. While Van Cleve painted a number of multi-figured Kermesses of both Saint Sebastian and Saint George, the composition of this one is not known in other versions. Elements of it are however to be found in some of them. The same brick-gabled building to the right for example occurs to the right of a Van Cleve sold in New York in 1996, where the flagpole flies the banner of Saint George.5 In that work, and in a number of other Van Cleve Kermesses there is a horse-drawn wagon full of merry-makers, its canvas roof rolled open sideways, but it is usually found on a diagonal sloping to the left, rather than as here to the right.6 Within the Kermesse half of the painting there is a clear demarcation in style between the distant figures, painted in a more peremptory fashion in muted colours, and the much more detailed figures nearer the viewer. Among them are several groups of the well-to-do, some of whom are very lavishly dressed, together with hawkers of foodstuffs and fancy goods, and in the middle, uniting the two parts of the composition, the aproned host of the wedding greeting an elegantly dressed party, shaking the hand of a cavalier on a bridge over the dividing stream.

A tree-ring analysis conducted by Ian Tyers of Dendrochronological Consultancy Ltd shows that all four boards comprising the panel are Baltic Oak, and the top and bottom boards are from the same tree. The latest measured heartwood growth ring is from the board second from top and is from 1569, yielding an interpreted likely date of use from 1577 onwards.7 The other boards have earliest dates of uses of 1565 to 1573, so are broadly consistent.

1 For example see K. Ertz and C. Nitze-Ertz, Marten van Cleve 1524–1581, Lingen 2014, pp. 205–07, nos 16–17, reproduced.

2 Ibid., p. 203, no. 159, reproduced.

3 Ibid., pp. 65–67, 197–98, nos. 132–36, all except no. 135 reproduced.

4 Vienna, Albertina, inv. no. 7990, pen and brown ink and wash heightened with white on paper, 26.5 by 41.3 cm.; ibid., p. 228, no. Z2, reproduced p. 227.

5 Ibid., pp. 35, 37, 148–49, no. 36, reproduced.

6 Ibid., pp. 16, 19, 25–26, 33–35, 141, no. 16, reproduced.

7 Report no. 772. A copy of the report is available upon request and will be supplied to the buyer.