Lot 16
  • 16

SIR ANTHONY VAN DYCK | The Adoration of the Shepherds

600,000 - 800,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • The Adoration of the Shepherds
  • oil on oak panel, en brunaille
  • 58.5 x 47 cm.; 23 x 18 1/2  in.


Anonymous sale, London, Christie's, 22 July 1921, lot 34, for 12 guineas to Pelham; Hon. Mrs Margaret Powell, Nanteos, near Aberystwyth, Wales;

With Koetser Gallery, London, 1938;

With Mortimer Brandt, New York, 1942, from whom purchased by

Edward M. Ayers, by whom given in 1942 to

The Art Institute of Zanesville, then the Zanesville Art Center, Zanesville, Ohio;

By whom deaccessioned and sold, New York, Sotheby's, 26 January 2006, lot 30, where acquired by the present owner.


Cambridge, Massachusetts, Fogg Museum, Rubens and Van Dyck Sketches, October 1941 (no catalogue); Zanesville, Ohio, Art Institute, 1942–2006.


Zanesville, Ohio, Art Institute, Catalogue of the permanent collection, 1942, no. 45; F.S. Berryman, 'News and Comment', in Magazine of Art, vol. 35, 1942, pp. 227 and 230;

J.D. Morse, Old Masters in America, Chicago 1955, p. 67;

H. Vey, 'Anton Van Dycks Ölskizzen', in Bulletin des Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, vol. 5, Brussels 1956, p. 186, reproduced fig. 14;

E. Larsen, Van Dyck, Freren 1988, vol. I, p. 473, reproduced fig. 497, vol. II, p. 278, cat. no. 689;

H. Vey in S.J. Barnes, N. De Poorter, O. Millar and H. Vey, Van Dyck. A Complete Catalogue of the Paintings, New Haven and London 2004, p. 250, cat. no. III.5, reproduced.

Catalogue Note

This is an unusually large oil sketch by Anthony van Dyck, dating from early in his second Antwerp period, probably shortly after his return from Italy in 1627. It corresponds to no known finished work or commission. Horst Vey saw in its monumental composition and architectural setting echoes of Venetian altarpieces that Van Dyck would have been familiar with, in particular those of Titian and Veronese. The twin columns rising behind the Holy Family are particularly reminiscent of Titian's work. In the years after his return to Antwerp, Van Dyck executed a number of large-scale ecclesiastical commissions in Flanders, and while the compositions are different, a full-scale work based on this sketch would show many similarities in concept and style with works such as the Adoration of the Shepherds that Van Dyck painted for a new altar in the lady chapel of the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk in Dendermonde (where it remains in situ), which has two Titianesque fluted columns rising behind the Holy Family, and the Adoration of the Shepherds, an unidentified commission, now in Hamburg, Kunsthalle, with a similar use of architectural framing elements.1 An oil sketch now in Berlin for the latter altarpiece provides a good example of how the relationship between Van Dyck's sketches and completed works operated.2 The sketch, of horizontal, not vertical format, differs in a number of ways from the Hamburg painting, especially in the two uppermost Shepherds. In the sketch, but not the finished work, fluted classical columns act as a repoussoir to the right, and extend behind the figures, whereas in the completed painting the architecture is less willfully classical, with wooden uprights and lintels. In the present sketch, Van Dyck combines both types of architecture, not as a repoussoir, but as a backdrop.

In these works Van Dyck adopted a synthesis of Venetian ideas with the familiar rhetorical language of Rubens' mature full-scale altarpieces. The figures are more numerous and more widely disposed than in the Dendermonde and Hamburg altarpieces, and the movement of the shepherds inwards from the right recalls Van Dyck's much earlier versions of the Betrayal of Christ.3

Horst Vey had not seen this sketch in the original prior to including it in the 2004 catalogue raisonné compiled by the distinguished quadrumvirate of whom he was part: he confessed to have passed through Zanesville on a Greyhound bus in the middle of the night, thus unable to inspect it. He was however able to see it in the original after the present owner had acquired it. 

A tree-ring analysis conducted by Ian Tyers of Dendrochronological Consultancy concludes that one of the two vertical boards of Netherlandish (North-West European) oak has a latest heartwood ring of 1605, and that it was thus most likely felled sometime after 1613.4 The ring pattern is very similar to that found in a board used for Rubens' Peace Embracing Plenty at Yale, which has sapwood rings from 1608–18, and is plausibly from the same tree.5

1 Vey in Barnes, De Poorter, Millar and Vey 2004, pp. 247–49, nos III.2 and III.4, reproduced.

2 Vey in Barnes, De Poorter, Millar and Vey 2004, pp. 248–49, no. III.3, reproduced.

3 Vey in Barnes, De Poorter, Millar and Vey 2004, pp. 33–37, nos I.17, I.20 and I.21, all reproduced. 

4 Report no. 1046, available on request. The second board produced no data.

5 I. Tyers, The tree-ring analysis of 2 panel paintings from the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut, Dendrochronological Consultancy Report, 828, 2016.