Lot 9
  • 9

Denys Calvaert

100,000 - 150,000 USD
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  • Denys Calvaert
  • The Holy Family with Saint John the Baptist and an angel
  • signed and dated center left: FECIT/DIONISIO CALVART FIAMENGO/.1579
  • oil on canvas
  • 22 7/8 by 16 1/4 in.; 58 by 41 cm.


Karl and Gertrude Pfatschbacher, Linz;
Thence by descent in the family;
By whom sold, Vienna, Dorotheum, 13 October 2010, lot 363;
Galerie Neuse, Kunsthandel GmbH, Bremen;
From whence purchased, March 2011.


The following condition report has been provided by Simon Parkes of Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc. 502 East 74th St. New York, NY 212-734-3920, simonparkes@msn.com, an independent restorer who is not an employee of Sotheby's. This work is in excellent condition. The canvas is lined with a non-wax adhesive. The paint layer is clean and shows no weakness or damage at all. Under ultraviolet light, there are a couple of spots of retouching in the bottom of the blue dress worn by the Madonna, but there are otherwise no retouches. The work should be hung 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 magnificent canvas is so beautifully preserved that even experts in the field have mistaken it for a copper support.  It was painted in 1579 by Denys Calvaert, known also as Dionisio Fiamingo, one of the first Flemish artists to migrate south to Italy.  Dazzling in color, smooth in rendering, and graceful in construction, this tightly arranged painting is wholly captivating and characteristic of the artist’s most celebrated works.  At the same time, it is evidence of Calvaert’s distinct ability in marrying the vibrancy and detailed finish of his Flemish heritage with the Mannerist tradition he adopted in Bologna—a skill that would define his output for the entirety of his thriving career. Around 1560, Calvaert moved from Antwerp to Bologna, where he trained first with Prospero Fontana, and then Lorenzo Sabatini, with whom he would collaborate on a number of works, such as the Holy Family with the Archangel Michael in the Basilica of San Giacomo Maggiore datable to circa 1568-1570.1  In 1572, upon receiving a commission from Pope Gregory XIII to decorate the Papal Palace, Sabatini and Calvaert traveled to Rome.  Calvaert remained here for three prolific years, during which time he studied the works of Michelangelo, Sebastiano del Piombo, Raphael, and Correggio, the latter of whom, along with Parmigianino and Federico Barocci, would have a lasting influence on the artist.  Calvaert returned to Bologna in 1575 and established a painting school, where Guido Reni, Domenichino, and Francesco Albani, among others, received their initial training.  Not until seven years later would the Caracci family establish their celebrated Accademia degli Incaminati.

Trained as a landscape painter in the studio of Kerstiaen van Queboorn, Calvaert, upon arriving in Bologna, turned his attention to the religious subjects, which would occupy him throughout his career.  While he produced a number of large altarpieces, among his most sought after works are the devotional pieces completed on a smaller scale, such as the present painting, which was executed relatively early in the artist's career.  In its simple pyramidal design and softly rounded features, this work is typical of Calvaert's Bolognese output by around 1580, at which point the influence of Federico Barocci is readily detected.

In this painting, the Holy Family, Saint John the Baptist and an Angel, all adorned with delicate golden halos and some dressed in thick draping fabrics, fill the entirety of the composition, surrounded by classical architecture and a window that opens up to a landscape beyond.  At the center is the Madonna and Child, whose body turns ever so slightly to gaze upwards towards both the loose bouquet of flowers falling from the angel’s hand nearby and his mother’s adoring gaze.  Captivated by the scene at hand is the young Saint John the Baptist, who energetically twists towards the central figures pointing upwards with one hand and gently caressing the arm of the Christ child with the other.  Balancing out the composition is Saint Joseph, who looks on from the left, leaning on a parapet and holding a cane with one hand while resting his head on the other.  Compositionally, this work can be compared with Calvaert’s The Holy Family with Saints Elizabeth and John the Baptist in the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire, Geneva (fig. 1), although the vibrancy, dynamism, and sweetness found in the present painting is altogether more prominent and refined.  

1. Oil on canvas, 309 by 178 cm.  For another version of this related composition, which is in a private collection, Bologna, see V. Fortunati Pietrantonio, Pittura bolognese del ‘500, Bologna 1986, vol. II, p. 694, reproduced.