Baroness Auguste Stummer von Tavarnok (1848–1896), Vienna;
With Gemälde-Galerie Abels, Cologne, by 1954;
Acquired there or shortly after.
T. von Frimmel, Verzeichnis der Gemälde in Besitze der Fran Baronin Auguste Stummer von Tavarnok (Galerie Winter), Vienna 1895, no. 18.
The traditional attribution to the Antwerp painter Herri Met de Bles (c. 1510– after 1550) was no doubt on account of the presence of the owl in the trees on the left hand side of the painting, a device to be found on many of his extant works, and which gave him in Italy the nickname ‘Il Civetta’. Following Joachim Patinir (c. 1480–1524), Bles was one of the most important artists responsible for the introduction of the Flemish ‘world landscape’ tradition in the sixteenth-century. He has plausibly been identified as the Herri de Patinir, who joined the Antwerp Painters’ Guild in 1535.
The composition of this landscape was evidently inspired by the central panel of the famous altarpiece of the van Lockhorst Family, painted in 1526–27 by Jan van Scorel (1495–1562) and today in the Centraal Museum, Utrecht (fig. 1).1 The figures of Christ and the surrounding apostles follow closely, with minor variations, those found in the corresponding part of Scorel's altarpiece. In both works, the landscape drops away to reveal an imposing panoramic view of the city of Jerusalem. The two prospects are, however, different. Scorel's view is topographically accurate and was very likely based on sketches that he himself had made on his pilgrimage to the Holy Land in the summer of 1520. The cityscape in the present painting seems to have been based upon an earlier woodcut by Erhard Reeuwijck of Utrecht made for Bernhard von Breydenbach's Peregrinatio ad terram Sanctam of 1486, a record of a pilgrimage of 1483–84 which included the first detailed and accurate illustrations of several principal European and Middle Eastern cities based on drawings made on the journey by Reeuwijck (fig. 2).2
It seems clear, however, that in keeping with contemporary studio practice in Antwerp, this painting is the work of more than one hand. The central landscape section is that most closely related to de Bles. Similar cityscapes may be found elsewhere in his œuvre, for example in the Landscape with Saint John the Baptist today in the Cleveland Museum of Art.3 Here similar prominent rock formations, one crowned with a citadel, rise up beyond the city as in the present panel, where a somewhat oversized Mount of Olives dominates the right distance. The distinctive massed foliage on the left of the composition, with its fascinating echoes of contemporary Danube School landscape trends, may also denote another hand, although such massed trees do appear in works given to Bles, such as the Sermon of Saint John the Baptist in Dresden, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen.4 The figures of Christ and his followers are however quite distinct from the attenuated forms painted by Bles himself. The fidelity of the group here to that in Utrecht suggests that its author may well have been familiar with Scorel's original altarpiece, and may have been connected to his workshop or following. A similar fusion of elements may be found, for example, in a work of Scorel’s follower Jan Swart van Groningen, the Landscape with the preaching of Saint John the Baptist of around 1530 in the Alte Pinakothek, Munich, or in the landscape of the same subject formerly with Galerie Heim-Girac in Paris, regarded by Friedländer as a possible collaboration between Bles and Swart.
1. Inv. no. 169. M.J. Friedlander, Early Netherlandish Painting, vol. XII, Leiden 1975, p. 120, cat. no. 296, reproduced pl. 158.
2. Reproduced in J.A.L. de Meyere, Jan van Scorel 1495–1562. Schilder voor prinsen en prelaten, Utrecht 1981, p. 17, fig. 36.
3. Panel 30.3 x 42.3 cm. Reproduced in N.E. Muller et al., Herri Met de Bles. Studies and Explorations of the World Landscape tradition, Turnhout 1998, fig. 120
4. For which see, W. Gibson, Mirror of the Earth: the World Landscape in sixteenth-century Flemish Painting, Princeton 1989, fig. 2.50.
5. RKD 4390.
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