Lot 32
  • 32

Nicolaes Pietersz. Berchem and studio

30,000 - 40,000 GBP
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  • Nicolaes Pietersz. Berchem and studio
  • Jupiter disguised as Diana seducing the nymph Callisto
  • oil on canvas


Anonymous sale, Rome, Bloomsbury Auctions, 25 May 2010, lot 132 (as Nicolaes Berchem);
Where acquired by the present owner.


The canvas has been relined. The paint surface is stable and appears to be in good overall condition with no major damages and a clear and even varnish. Inspection under ultraviolet light reveals a thin band of strengthening of between 4 and 30 mm. in width running along all four margins. There are scattered minor retouchings in the chest and hair of Diana, and a thin horizontal line of repaired damage measuring approx. 14 cm. in the lower part of her dress. There are also scattered, minor retouchings in the stomach, arms and cloak of Callisto. The faces of the two figures are in excellent condition. There are several areas of localised retouching in the background: in the lower left corner; in three areas approximately 7 cm. from the right hand margin to the right of Callisto’s cloak, the largest of which measures approx. 4 by 10 cm.; and scattered spot retouchings to the right of Diana’s head and in the leaves in the upper right corner. Offered in a carved and gilt and painted wood frame with some chips and losses.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

This elegant scene of seduction is inspired by an episode recounted by the poet Ovid in Metamorphoses. It shows the bare-breasted nymph Callisto – Diana's favourite – embraced by the god Jupiter in the guise of the goddess herself. In the background looms Jupiter's tell-tale attribute, the eagle, while the crescent moon crowning 'Diana' identifies the imposter. 

The son of renowned still-life painter Pieter Claesz., Nicolaes Berchem was an important and influential figure of the Dutch Golden Age. Known primarily as a painter of Italianate landscapes and pastoral scenes popular among contemporary collectors, Berchem was also celebrated as an accomplished figure painter, even providing the staffage in works by such artists as Ruisdael and Hobbema. Berchem’s history paintings that treat allegorical and mythological subjects, as in this work, testify to his ambitions in the genre and were probably executed on commission. 

Ovid's Metamorphoses, with its vivid descriptions of the lives and loves of the gods, enjoyed considerable popularity. Available in French translation and, from 1671, in Dutch, it was also published in editions with moralising commentaries addressed to Calvinist burghers. The appeal of this episode for its intended audience lies as much in the ambiguity of gender roles as it does in any moralising content about the adulterous adventures of the gods or the easy seduction of maidens.

The subject inspired a number of seventeenth-century Dutch and Flemish painters, notably Rubens, and during the following century its erotic possibilities would also be explored by artists such as Boucher and Fragonard in France. Another version of Berchem’s composition with the remains of a signature – also on canvas and of comparable height but narrower in width, thereby compressing the area with the eagle to the left of the figures (95 x 112.5 cm.) – was formerly in the collection of Hugh A. J. Munro of Novar (1797–1864) and sold at Christie's, London, on 9 December 1988, lot 86.