Lot 19
  • 19

Adriaen Isenbrant

150,000 - 200,000 USD
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  • Adriaen Isenbrant
  • The Flight into Egypt
  • oil on panel
  • 27 1/4  by 33 5/8  in.; 69.2 by 85.4 cm.


Private collection, Saint Petersburg, Russia, by 1902;
Julius Böhler, Munich, by 1913;
Adolph Thiem, Berlin and San Remo, by 1916;
Galleria Sangiorgi, Rome;
From whom acquired by Robert T. Francis, Pittsfield and New York, 1928;
Thence by bequest to the Berkshire Museum, 1950.


Pittsfield, The Berkshire Museum, 1932;
Pittsfield, The Berkshire Museum, 1934;
Phildelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1939;
Philadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Diamond Jubilee Exhibition: Masterpieces of Painting, November 1950 - February 1951, no. 22 (as Joachim Patinir).


M.J. Friedländer, Von Eyck bis Bruegel, Berlin 1921, pp. 109, 194 (as Adriaen Isenbrant and Joachim Patinir);
K. Gerstenberg, Die ideale Landschaftsmalerei: ihre Begründung und Vollendung in Rom, Halle 1923, p. 155, reproduced plate IV (as Joachim Patinir);
J. Held, Dürers Wirkung auf die Niederländische Kunst seiner Zeit, The Hague 1931, p. 64 (as Joachim Patinir and figures, according to Friedländer, by Adriaen Isenbrant);
M.J. Friedländer, Die altniederländische Malerei, Berlin 1933, vol. XI, p. 132 (as Adriaen Isenbrant and landscape in the style of Joachim Patinir); 
The Art News, 27 October 1934, reproduced (as Joachim Patinir);
E. McCausland, "Reopening the Berkshire Museum," in The Art News, 12 June 1937, pp. 10, 24, reproduced;
The Berkshire Evening Eagle, 20 August 1953, p. 7, reproduced (as Joachim Patinir with figures by Adriaen Isenbrant);
M.J. Friedländer, Early Netherlandish Painting: From Van Eyck to Brueghel, London 1956, p. 84 (as Adriaen Isenbrant and Joachim Patinir);
Connoisseur, April 1956, no. 137, p. 142 (as Adriaen Isenbrandt and possibly Joachim Patinir);
S.L. Faison, Jr., A Guide to the Art Museums of New England, New York 1958, p. 143, reproduced (as Joachim Patinir with figures probably by Adriaen Isenbrant);
H.G. Franz, Niederländische Landschaftsmalerei im Zeitalter des Manierismus, Graz 1969, vol. I, pp. 36, 38, reproduced vol. II, p. 16, fig. 18 (as Joachim Patinir and figures added later);
R.A. Koch, Joachim Patinir, Princeton 1968, p. 64, note 29 (as Adriaen Isenbrant);
M.J. Friedländer, Early Netherlandish Painting, vol XI, Leiden 1974, cat. no. 150, p. 84, reproduced plate 124 (as Adriaen Isenbrant with the landscape influenced by Patinir);
S.L. Faison, Jr., The Art Museums of New England, Boston 1982, p. 194, reproduced;
W. Gibson, Mirror of the Earth: The World Landscape in Sixteenth Century Flemish Painting, Princeton 1989, pp. 46, 93, note 121 (as Adriaen Isenbrant);
F. Lammertse, Van Eyck to Bruegel, 1400-1550: Dutch and Flemish Painting in the collection of the Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam 1994, p. 233, reproduced p. 232 (as attributed to Adriaen Isenbrant);
T. Cahill, "Flight Patterns," in Berkshire Living, March-April 2006, pp. 34-35 (as Adriaen Isenbrant).


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 in fairly good condition despite repeated dramatic structural interventions. The horizontally grained wood panel support, comprised of three boards, was thinned to a thickness of 4 mm. Conservation records indicate that the thinned panel was attached to an aluminum support that was subsequently removed and replaced with a piece of plywood. The sealed plywood remains in place and removable metal strips are attached around the perimeter of the painting. The panel is planar and although quite heavy shows no signs of movement in the original wood support. Losses along the joins were not filled to level in past treatment(s), making their locations visible under normal lighting conditions; joins are located 25 cm and 45.5 cm from the top edge.A significantly discolored and dull varnish coats the surface of the painting, subduing the full tonal range and compressing the contrast and illusion of space. As a result, the spatial progression from the foreground to the background does not appear as dramatic as it could and details appear less crisp. The yellowed and darkened varnish appears to be a natural resin based on its appearance under ultraviolet (UV) illumination, and is quite thickly applied. A small cleaning test along the left edge suggests removal of the varnish would brighten the painting considerably. X-radiography confirms no major losses exist and only minor losses are found along the joins. Although the fluorescence of the varnish under UV impedes confirmation of the presence of retouching, examination with strong light and magnification suggests retouching is found along the joins and around the perimeter. Loose toning along the bottom three to four inches seems to have been applied to mask wear and/or age-related increased transparency in the earth pigments used in the ground passages. The grassy area to the right of Joseph is similarly treated, as are the upper reaches of the sky along the top edge. Dark cloudiness in the trees in the upper right may be attributable to retouching applied to mask wear in the original green glazes, which can be sensitive to solvents, or simply to a greater accumulation of varnish due to past partial cleaning(s). The softness of the features of the figures suggest some degree of cleaning damage. However, many details throughout the painting appear to be undamaged or sufficiently intact to allow careful retouching to knit together any rubbed portions.The painting would benefit from cleaning to improve the tonality and spatial illusion, filling to reduce the appearance of the joins, and careful retouching to knit together moderate wear, most of which is concentrated in the top and bottom few inches. Conservation treatment can be expected to significantly improve the overall appearance of the painting and allow its strengths to be more apparent.
"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 fascinating panel is a remarkable example of Netherlandish landscape painting, a distinct genre that arose in the first half of the 16th century. Rendered from a birds-eye perspective with a close attention to detail, the work encourages an exploration of every last corner of its impressive vista, from the dense group of trees in the right foreground to the soft, blue-toned horizon in the distance.  Beyond a rocky foreground, across which travels the Holy Family, unfolds a vast and lush landscape of hills and pastures, mountains and valleys, peaceful rivers and seas, as well as quiet villages and fortified cities. In addition to the figures in the foreground, which are based on Albrecht Dürer’s woodcut from his Life of the Virgin series (fig. 1), other references to the biblical story of the Flight into Egypt are woven throughout the varied topography.  In the middle of the panel appear King Herod and his soldiers between a bridge and a golden wheat field.  This tiny detail is a reference to the miracle in which a wheat field grew overnight after the Holy Family passed through, so that when a pursuant Herod arrived the next day inquiring after the traveling group, the farmer could truthfully claim they had passed at the time of last sowing.  In the right foreground, a statue appears in a bowed position on its pedestal, alluding to the pagan idols that fell to the ground when the Holy Family entered Egypt. 

Scholars once ascribed the present work to Joachim Patinir, one of the founding fathers of Netherlandish landscape painting, while others believed it to be a collaboration between Patinir and Adriaen Isenbrant, himself a leading figure of the Northern Renaissance in Bruges and active in the first half of the 16th century.  More recently, however, this panel has been more firmly placed within the group of works given to Isenbrant.  Peter van den Brink gives this work entirely to Isenbrant, though other scholars, including Till-Holger Borchert and Dr. Max Martens, have suggested a possible collaboration between Isenbrant and a contemporary landscape specialist, a common practice in the workshops of Bruges during Isenbrant's lifetime. 

Although not much is known of Isenbrant's biography, archival evidence provides color to this elusive artist's life and professional career.  In 1510, Isenbrant became a free-master in Bruges, where he would remain for nearly the entirety of his career, which spanned over four decades. He married twice, held the position of vinder (juror) to the guild’s dean nine times, assisted with the festival decorations in celebration of the Triumphal Entry of Charles V into Bruges in 1520, was influenced by the works of Gerard David, and was a contemporary of Ambrosius Benson.  He ran a successful workshop in Bruges, which was home to a thriving art market during his lifetime, and he produced works for both private clients and the open market.  In 1511, the artist's guild in Bruges lifted restrictions that had previously prevented members from freely selling in both their shops and on the free market.1  This fortuitous shift allowed for a more prodigious output for artists, including Isenbrant, whose paintings found their way onto the open markets of Bruges and Antwerp, perhaps with the assistance of Marc Bonnet, who was a dealer active in both cities.   

Following earlier efforts of nineteenth century art historians such as Gustav Waagen, Eberhard von Bodenhausen was one of the first art historians to isolate a group of about thirty works by Isenbrant and his workshop in 1905.  This group was further refined and expanded to over one hundred and fifty panels by Max Friedlander in the 1930s and then again in the 1970s. Over the years, Friedlander was unsure if the Isenbrant group should be assigned instead to a contemporary Bruges painter called Albert Cornelisz., and at least one latter-day art historian, Lorne Campbell, has argued for this identification.  In her 1995 article, Jean C. Wilson proposed that the group of paintings given to Isenbrant may be comprised by examples from a circle of artists working closely together in Bruges and suggested that the group be examined on the basis of stylistic analysis.2   More recently, however, Till-Holger Borchert, discussed how the varied nature of the works ascribed to Isenbrant is due in part to his practice of absorbing other artist's pictorial schemes, the involvement of his workshop, and his collaboration with other artists of the period.3 

Around five hundred paintings currently comprise Adriaen Isenbrant’s impressive body of work. Even though there are no signed or monogrammed works by the artist, the stylistic identity of the group of works given to him is consistent and readily recognized.  His works are characterized by a palette of strong colors, smooth yet lively surfaces, intense modelling, delicate curves, and a close attention to detail.  His landscapes are notable for their high horizon lines, which allow for a larger stage on which to depict the natural world, an understanding of spatial recession, and lush foliage.  Comparisons can be drawn between the figures of the present painting and those found in Isenbrant's small Life of the Virgin triptych in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (fig. 2), particularly those figures in the right wing of the triptych, which also depicts the Flight into Egypt, a theme that Isenbrant returned to repeatedly throughout his career.  Iterations of this biblical story appear in various formats by the artist, either as small devotional works, wings to altarpieces, or small vignettes within a larger landscape, as is the case in the present work. 

Infrared reflectography (IRR) images of the present panel reveal small changes made to the figures and to the carefully arranged composition (fig. 3).  It also unveils a distinct and lively underdrawing that moves freely across the entire work, possibly suggesting the hand of just one artist rather than two, an opinion supported by Peter van den Brink.  The IRR imaging also helps link this painting to another in the Isenbrant group, for it is consistent with the underdrawing found in the landscape of the Crucifixion triptych attributed to Isenbrant in the Art Museum of Estonia (Niguliste Museum) Tallinn, Estonia.

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

1. See M. Ainsworth, Gerard David: Purity of Vision in an Age of Transition, New York 1998, p. 277.
2. See J. Wilson, “Adriaen Isenbrant and the Problem of his Oeuvre” Oud Holland, vol. 109, 1995, p. 12.
3. See T.-H. Borchert, in Bruges and the Renaissance: Memling to Pourbus, Ludion 1998, pp. 120-122.