Lot 18
  • 18

Adriaen Isenbrant

150,000 - 200,000 USD
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  • Adriaen Isenbrant
  • The Temptation of Adam and Eve
  • oil on panel
  • 18  1/4  by 10  3/4  in.; 46.4 by 27.3 cm.


Hermann Emden, Hamburg;
By whom sold, Berlin, Rudolph Lepke, 3 May 1910, lot 53;
There acquired by Steinmeyer;
Emil Weinberger, Vienna, by 1928;
By whom sold, Vienna, C.J. Wawra, 22 October 1929, lot 442;
There acquired by the Brummer Gallery, New York;
From whom acquired by Mrs. W. Murray Crane, New York;
Thence by descent to her daughter, Miss Louise Crane, New York, by 1972;
Thence by bequest to the Berkshire Museum, 1994. 


W.M. Conway, The Van Eycks and Their Followers, New York 1921, p. 302;
M.J. Friedländer, Early Netherlandish Painting, vol. XI, Leiden 1974, cat. no. 145, p. 83, reproduced plate 122;
M.W. Ainsworth (ed.), Man, Myth, and Sensual Pleasure. Jan Gossart’s Renaissance, exhibition catalogue, New Haven & London 2010, under cat. no. 6, note 17, p. 139.


The following condition report has been provided by Karen Thomas of Thomas Art Conservation LLC., 336 West 37th Street, Suite 830, New York, NY 10018, 212-564-4024, info@thomasartconservation.com, an independent restorer who is not an employee of Sotheby's. This painting is nicely preserved overall. The figures are in excellent condition, with only a few tiny touches of restoration visible under ultraviolet (UV) illumination and some reinforcement of contours in the arms, hands, and feet. An isolated area of loss (restored) running down the center of the painting suggests that this painting may have been created by combining the outer wings of a small devotional altarpiece. X-radiography and infra-red reflectography (IRR) confirm the presence of fill material and retouching spanning the join in the panel the full length of the painting. This area is larger than would be anticipated if this were related to a typical join failure. Newer retouching, visible under UV, includes a portion of the base of the tree and carefully applied scumbles to minimize the appearance of dark craquelure in portions of the sky. Slight lifting following the grain is visible in the sky, upper left, and appears for the most part to be related to restoration rather than vulnerability in the original paint film. Small details including waterfowl and foliage are intact, however a deer in the midground, right, displays some normal, age-related increased transparency of the pigments and possible slight rubbing. In addition to confirming the presence of the aforementioned retouching, IRR reveals underdrawing atop the white ground, including contours with a few areas of hatching in the figures, and general indications for background elements. The vertically grained wood panel is comprised of two boards, joined precisely at the center. The original wood support has been thinned to a thickness of 4mm and a cradle with 5 fixed vertical members and 6 sliding crossbars has been attached to the reverse. The panel may be trimmed along the top edge, however unpainted borders with a barbe (a raised edge of paint related to a removed engaged frame) are found on the left, right, and bottom. This barbe is interrupted along the bottom edge at the center, as might be expected if this is indeed two wings joined together. The painting displays no need of conservation treatment and may be enjoyed in its current state.
"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

This small panel can be ascribed to Adriaen Isenbrant, one of the leading figures of the Northern Renaissance in Bruges in the first half of the 16th century.  While many details of his life remain a mystery (see note in following lot), Isenbrant was the head of a large and thriving workshop, and his works, which often display the influence of Gerard David, found their way onto the open art markets of Northern Europe, in particular those of Bruges and also possibly Antwerp.   In the present work, Adam and Eve are depicted within the Garden of Eden, surrounded by lush greenery, a gentle stream of water, and a few animals.  The two are posed in a friendly embrace next to the Tree of Knowledge, Eve casually holding the forbidden fruit in her right hand, while Adam, with his right arm resting on the shoulder of his partner, reaches to pluck his own from the serpent whose body wraps around the trunk of the tree.  Beyond the couple recedes a rolling vista, within which appear a few small figures, possibly depicting episodes from earlier in Adam and Eve’s narrative, including, perhaps, the creation of man and woman.  From the softly blooming foliage in the foreground, to Eve’s golden hair, to the firm upward gaze of the two figures, this panel is an example of the extraordinary attention to detail characteristic not only of the oeuvre given to Isenbrant, but also of the most celebrated works to have come out of Bruges and its prosperous workshops in the early 16th century.  Till-Holger Borchert and Dr. Max Martens have endorsed the attribution of the present work to Isenbrant, and Peter van den Brink has proposed that it might come from the artist's workshop.  

The composition of this painting is based on the exterior wings of Jan Gossart’s famed Malvagna Triptych, which was possibly commissioned by the diplomat Antonio Siciliano, who was sent to the Netherlands in 1513 by the Duke of Milan, and is now housed in the Galleria Regionale della Sicilia, Palazzo Abtallis in Palermo (fig. 1).1  Recent examination of the Malvagna Triptych has suggested a collaboration with Gerard David, who is thought to have completed the landscape on the exterior wings, while Gossart completed the figures of Adam and Eve.2  In turn, the composition as a whole was inspired by Albrecht Dürer’s print of the same subject of 1511 from The Small Passion Series, which would have circulated throughout the Netherlands long before the German artist’s northern visit in 1520-1521 (fig. 2).  Most of the copies and versions of the Malvagna Triptych can be linked to artists in Bruges, and  it was here that Isenbrant likely would have made his own copies of the Malvagna Triptych before it left Bruges for Italy.3  

In addition to the present work, there are various other versions known of this composition by Isenbrant and his workshop, including versions of the Adam and Eve group, including one in the Legion of Honor, San Francisco, as well as a faithful copy of the full triptych recorded by Friedländer as formerly being in the Pannwitz collection, but now as whereabouts unknown.4 

This painting is composed of two vertical boards that likely once served as the outer wings to a small, devotional triptych.  X-ray imaging reveals a clear join down the center of the work, and IRR imaging shows an underdrawing that does not cross the central join and is isolated to each panel.  Further analysis of the minimal underdrawing under IRR reveals a dual approach to this composition, with a more freely handled landscape and more carefully articulated figures, as well as a number of small changes made to the figures as the artist worked to perfect the final composition, including the placement of Adam’s face, the position of Eve’s right hand, and the position of both of their feet (fig. 3). 

We are grateful to Till Holger-Borchert, Dr. Max Martens, and Peter van den Brink for their assistance in cataloguing this lot. 

1. See M. Ainsworth, ed., Man, Myth and Sensual Pleasures: Jan Gossart’s Renaissance, New York 2010, p. 136). 
2. ibid.
3. ibid., p. 139.
4. See M.J. Friedländer, Early Netherlandish Painting, vol. XI, Leiden, 1974, cat. no. 134, pp. 48, 81, reproduced plate 112.