Lot 4
  • 4

Herri met de Bles

80,000 - 120,000 GBP
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  • Herri met de Bles
  • A fantastical moonlit landscape with St. Christopher carrying the Christ child across a river
  • oil on oak panel


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.


The following condition report is provided by Hamish Dewar who is an external specialist and not an employee of Sotheby's: Structural Condition The artist's panel is providing a secure and stable structural support and is very slightly bowed. Paint Surface The paint surface has a reasonably even varnish layer. Inspection under ultra-violet light shows a number of retouchings, some of which appear to cover losses which have subsequently been infilled and inpainted. The most significant of these are: 1) a horizontal area in the sky which runs through the clouds and across the higher rocks in the upper left of the composition and is approximately 20 cm in length, 2) a similar horizontal line of inpainting which is approximately 14 cm in length and runs through the mountains in the upper right of the composition, and 3) an area on the lower horizontal edge near to the lower right corner which measures approximately 6 x 1 cm. There are other small scattered retouchings and there may be other retouchings which are not identifiable under ultra-violet light beneath the old varnish layers. Some of the retouchings are visible under ultra-violet light. Summary The painting would therefore appear to be in a reasonably good and stable condition and the retouchings mentioned above should be noted.
"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

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.