Lot 3
  • 3

Hendrick van Steenwyck the Younger

60,000 - 80,000 USD
100,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Hendrick van Steenwyck the Younger
  • A prison interior with sleeping guards
  • signed and dated on the wall, beneath the candle, center left: H.V.S / 16(?)7
  • oil on copper


Miss Mary Charlotte Hunter, Beech House near Reading;
By whom sold, London, Christie's, 29 April 1949, lot 39 (as signed and dated, 1617);
Where acquired by J.P. Larsson, Stockholm;
Anonymous sale, London, Christie's, 8 December 1995, lot 29;
Simon Dickinson, London, 1997.


Stockholm, Nationalmuseum (according to catalogue entry of 1995 sale, see Provenance);
New Orleans 1997, no. 52;
Baltimore 1999, no. 51.


New Orleans 1997, pp. 134-135, cat. no. 52, reproduced p. 135;
Baltimore 1999, pp. 120-123, cat. no. 51, reproduced p. 121;
J. Howarth, The Steenwyck Family as Masters of Perspective, Turnhout 2009, p. 214, cat. no. II.C21, reproduced p. 489.

Catalogue Note

Prison scenes such as this were particularly favored by Hendrick van Steenwyck the Younger, and like church interiors, they offered an opportunity for the artist to flaunt his talent for architectural depiction.1  To the 17th century viewer, however, the scenes had additional connotations, often signifying the Liberation of Saint Peter.  As related in the Book of Acts, Saint Peter had been imprisoned by Herod Agrippa, but the night before his trial, while the guards around him slept, he was visited by an angel:

“And behold, an angel of the Lord stood next to him, and a light shone in the cell.  He struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.”  And the chains fell off his hands.”2

The episode was popular in Dutch painting and in most treatments of the subject, Steenwyck placed Saint Peter and the angel prominently in the foreground.   In others, however, the protagonists are barely perceptible in the distant background, or at times not included at all but merely alluded to by the prison setting.3 In this painting the viewer is forced to peer into the impenetrable darkness to discern two figures, possibly the apostle and his companion, making their escape beyond.4  Set at night, within the cavernous depths of a Roman prison, the scene allowed the artist to display his mastery of perspective, with the additional challenge of minimal light.   The composition is lit by a single torch, casting a flaming light across the slumped guards in the foreground, while the vaulted passageways recede into obscurity. 

As Jeremy Howarth notes, this prison scene is closest in composition to  Steenwyck's Interior with Guards, now in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Caen (inv. no. 127) and a Liberation of Saint Peter, in a private American collection.5  Those paintings, in contrast to the present copper, were executed on panel and the latter is much larger in size, measuring 28 by 42 in.; 71.2 by 106.8 cm.  The painting can also be compared to a drawing, dating to circa 1625, now in the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles (inv. no. 85.GG.42, fig. 1).  At the time of the 1949 sale, the present painting was catalogued as being dated 1617 (see Provenance).  The digit of the date denoting the decade is now illegible.  However, in stylistic terms, 1627 would seem a more plausible date, placing it in line with the Getty drawing.6


1.  J. Howarth, under Literature, p. 53.
2.  Acts of the Apostles, chapter XII:7-10.
3.  J. Howarth, op. cit., p. 52.
4.  Ibid.
5.  Ibid., p. 210, cat. no. II.C7 and p. 221, cat. no. II.C42 respectively.
6.  Ibid., p. 214, cat. no. II.C21.