Lot 4
  • 4

Herri met de Bles

Estimate
80,000 - 120,000 GBP
Sold
137,000 GBP
bidding is closed

Description

  • Herri met de Bles
  • A fantastical moonlit landscape with St. Christopher carrying the Christ child across a river
  • oil on oak panel
  • 21.5 by 33.9 cm.; 8 1/2  by 13 3/8  in.

Provenance

Private collection, eastern France, since at least the first half of the 20th century;
Acquired from the above by the present owner in early 2010.

Catalogue Note

After the death of Joachim Patinir in 1524 Herri Met de Bles became the undisputed master of the new genre of landscape painting in the southern Netherlands and would make for himself a lasting reputation that spread as far as Prague where Rudolph II owned several of his works. He was both talented in the depiction of the minutest detail of his ‘world landscapes’ and possessed an imagination that set his landscapes above those of his peers. He eschewed Patinir’s structured compostions in favour of more chaotic, spectacular worlds of his imagination.

This small panel combines all of the elements on which Herri’s reputation rests. It is a highly unusual moonlit landscape, the full moon illuminating all before it from just above the horizon to the left. Those areas in the light’s path are painted with an extraordinary level of detail, particularly the city and shoreline to the right. In the centre Herri has placed a large rock in silhouette, its opacity accentuated by the brightness of the landscape that shines through the peculiarly eroded tunnels at its base. It is a partly anthropomorphic formation, something that we see in varying forms throughout Herri’s œuvre but perhaps most clearly in the panel of a similar size depicting St Peter walking on water in the Kisters collection, Kreuzlingen.1 Above the rock stars twinkle in the darkness of the night sky, as St. Christopher and the Christ child make their way across the river to the safety of the shore where a monk holds out a lantern to aid their arrival.

In the use of long, vertical brushstrokes St. Christopher is painted in the style that distinguishes Herri's figures from those of others and may be closely compared to the figures on the road to Emmaus in the two panels of the same name in the Museum Mayer van den Bergh, Antwerp, and the Kunsthalle, Hamburg, or those in his Road to Calvary in a Brussels private collection.2 His trees are equally distinctive in the tiny pinpricks that delineate the leaves catching the light, a technique that he has re-employed in the unusually vivacious water for the crests of the waves which we see again in the Kreuzlingen St. Peter. There is possibly an owl in the small cavity in the rock, above and to the right of the little hut reached by ladder. Much has been made of the owls that feature in many of Herri's works and they are often considered his 'signature', as they were by Van Mander – indeed in Italy, where his works were popular, he was nicknamed 'Civetta' in response to this.

A related panel by Herri, also a moonlit scene with St. Christopher, is in Palazzo Colonna, Rome, and has recently been published for the first time.3 The composition is clearly related though the rock is somewhat less anthropomorphised. It is however of precisely the same dimensions and incorporates many of the same motifs.

1. See M. Weeman, Herri Met de Bles, Paris 2013, pp. 228–29, fig. 153.
2. Ibid., figs. 16, 19 and 22.
3. See the catalogue to the exhibition, Fables du Paysage Flamand, Lille 2012, no. 72, pp. 266–67, reproduced.

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