Lot 53
  • 53


5,000,000 - 7,000,000 USD
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  • Joachim Anthonisz. Wtewael
  • A Banquet of the Gods
  • signed lower left: J(?) V WÆL FECIT
  • oil on copper
  • 6 x 8 in.
  • 20.5 x 15.5 cm


Possibly Jan Nicquet, or his son, Amsterdam, by 1604;
Joseph Strutt, Esq., Derby, by 1827;
Thence by descent to his daughter, Isabel (d. 1877), and her husband, John Howard Galton (1794-1862), Hadzor, near Dorwich, by 1850;
Thence by descent to their son, Thedore Galton (1820-1881);
Thence by descent to his son, Hubert George Howard Galton (1854-1928);
His sale, London, Christie's, 22 June 1889, lot 75 (as "O Van Wal");
Anonymous sale, London, Christie's, 12 June 1914, lot 88 (as on panel);
There acquired by Francis Howard, Dorking, Surrey;
His sale, London, Christie's, 25 November 1955, lot 46 (as on panel);
There acquired by Edward Speelman, London, 1955;
With Arcade Gallery, London, 1955;
Korda collection, London;
From whom acquired by Edward Speelman, Ltd. and Thomas Gibson;
From whom acquired by Daniel Katz, London;
From whom acquired by the present collector, 1994.


Nottingham, Nottingham Castle Museum, 1881;
Nottingham, Nottingham Castle Museum, before 1929;
London, Royal Academy, Dutch pictures, 1450-1750: Winter Exhibition, 22 November 1952 - 1 March 1953, no. 8 (as A Banquet of the Gods);
Utrecht, Centraal Museum; Washington D.C., National Gallery of Art; Houston, Museum of Fine Arts, Pleasure and Piety: The Art of Joachim Wtewael, 21 February 2015 - 31 January 2016, no. 18 (as The Wedding of Cupid and Psyche).


M. Jervis-White-Jervis, Painting and Celebrated Painters, ancient and Modern, vol. II, London 1854, p. 422;
Possibly, H. Hymans, ed., Livre des peintres, de Carel van Mander; vie des peintres flamands, hollandais et allemands, vol. 2, Paris 1885, p. 317;
G.F. Waagen. Treasures of Art in Great Britain being an account of the chief collections of paintings, drawings, sculptures, illuminated mss., &c. &c., London 1894, vol. 3, p. 224 (as A Feast of the Gods: an inscribed and very rich picture by this mannered painter, who is famed for the most delicate and miniature like execution);
C.M.A.A. Lindeman, Joachim Anthonisz Wtewael, Utrecht 1929, pp. 75, 105-106, 254, cat. no. XLII, reproduced pl. XXX (as The Wedding of Peleus and Thetis);
C.M.A.A. Lindeman, "Wtewael," in U. Thieme and F. Becker, Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler von der Antike bis zur Gegenwart, vol. XXXVI, Munich 1947, p. 286 (as The Wedding of Peleus and Thetis); 
J. Foucart, in Le XVIe Siècle Européen. Peintures et Dessins dan les Collections Publiques Françaises, Paris 1965, pp. 265-66, under cat. no. 326; 
Apollo, vol. XC, October 1969, reproduced p. lxxx;
A.W. Lowenthal, Joachim Wtewael and Dutch Mannerism, Doornspijk 1986, p. 22 and p. 107, cat. no. A-30, reproduced plate 43 (as The Wedding of Cupid and Psyche);
W. Kloek, in Dawn of the Golden Age:  Northern Netherlandish Art, 1580-1620, Amsterdam 1993, pp. 558-559, cat. no. 230, reproduced p. 558 and in color p. 225;
A. Wheelock, in Pleasure and Piety: The Art of Joachim Wtewael, exhibition catalogue, Princeton 2015, pp. 107-109, cat. no. 18, reproduced (as The Wedding of Cupid and Psyche).


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 on copper is mounted onto an old oak panel. The copper plate is flat, and the corners are well preserved. There does not seem to have been any instability to the paint layer. Under ultraviolet light, the only retouches visible are a few tiny spots on the extreme edges. No other retouches are visible under ultraviolet light or to the naked eye, and it is doubtful that there are any further retouches of any note. The work is certainly in remarkably good condition.
"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 remarkably well-preserved Banquet of the Gods by Joachim Anthonisz. Wtewael is a paradigm of Dutch Mannerist art.  Its elegant forms, classical subject, and refined technique exemplify this movement, which included the most important artists in the Netherlands from 1580 to 1620.  Praised by his contemporaries for his versatility and artistic prowess, Wtewael was capable of working across mediums on any scale, though it is his small paintings that are his most prized.  The fine brushstrokes and the glittering colors in this copper exploit the smooth, reflective surface of the metal support, and fully reveal Wtewael's extraordinary dexterity.  This painting further shines a light on this artist's imaginative and inventive storytelling, for within this small composition, ultimately inspired by a well-known print by Hendrick Goltzius (fig. 1), nearly 50 elegantly posed figures painted in a kaleidoscope of color have been dexterously assembled for a celestial banquet set within a glade and upon an elaborate arrangement of clouds.   Across the foreground of this painting appears a beautiful frieze-like arrangement of gods, interrupted only by the trunk of a thick birch tree that rises upwards through the composition.  Mars (A), the god of war, with his helmet, shield, and sword, wraps his arms around the reclining Venus (B), the goddess of love and fertility, whose nude body is loosely draped in a transparent fabric and whose left hand holds a delicate glass of wine.  Upon her left leg leans her son, Cupid (C), with his signature arrows.  To their left, a drunken Bacchus (D) raises a red jug to his mouth, while Ceres (E) leans into his lap—her wheat and wares from a cornucopia scattered in front of her.  The identity of the man to her left remains uncertain, though suggestions have ranged from Saturn to Pluto (F).  Towards the right of the foreground sits Pan (G), the god of the woods, with his pipe, pointed ears, hairy legs and hooves.  Surrounding him are a number of muses (H) playing instruments, above whom appear two standing waiters to the gods (I).  Near this area rises a thick birch tree whose bending motion mirrors the form of many of the figures in the scene.  A thick cloud blends into upper leaves of the tree, atop of which sits Fame (J), with her trumpet, surrounded by a few flying putti. At the left edge of the composition stands Hercules (K) with his club, while armored Minerva (L) sits nearby at the base of another tree whose branches and trunk are largely replaced by a plume of clouds.  In the upper left, Luna (M), the goddess of the moon, leans over a thick cloud looking down upon the scene below.  Just below Iris (N) who reclines on her rainbow at upper center sits Apollo (O), as he plays his instruments and hovers just above the feast at center.  Although many of the figures seated at the banquet table are difficult to identify, Diana (P) with a crescent moon on her brow seems to place her arm around Mercury (Q), who wears a red hat. While the gods are being served by a number of male and female waiters, Ganymede (R), the cup bearer of the gods, appears in front of the table, pouring wine into a glass cup. 

Variously identified in the past as The Wedding of Peleus and Thetis and The Wedding of Cupid and Psyche, the subject of the present work should more simply be regarded as A Banquet of the Gods.  The first description of the subject cannot be correct because of the absence of Eris, the goddess of discord.  She was the only goddess not invited to the marriage celebration of Peleus and Thetis and revenged herself by bringing the Golden Apple to the wedding banquet.  The apple was to be given to "the fairest" and was subsequently given to Paris to choose who was the most beautiful goddess (a decision that eventually lead to the Trojan War).  As Kloek points out, the second title for the picture is also unlikely because of Cupid's position in the composition:  he is not seated at the banquet table, as would be expected of a bridegroom, but is in the center of the foreground casually leaning against Venus's thigh.  Kloek sees Cupid and the other foreground figures as central to the meaning of the whole, however.  Separated into three distinct groups, from left to right— Bacchus, Ceres and (possibly) Pluto; Mars, Venus and Cupid; and Pan and four muses—they represent the pleasures of food and drink, sexual love, as well as music and lust:  themes that recur regularly throughout the Mannerist period.1  

Compositions depicting Banquets of the Gods provided Mannerist artists with marvelous vehicles to depict these themes, and Goltzius's 1587 engraving of The Wedding of Cupid and Psyche, based on a drawing by Bartolomeus Spranger, was one of the most influential early works of this type (fig. 1).  In it more than 80 figures are arranged in a celestial banquet set among the clouds.  Wtewael himself painted at least nine similar banquets, as it was one of his most favored subjects:  the present work and eight versions of The Wedding of Peleus and Thetis.2   Five of the extant versions of Peleus are on copper and two are on panel.  The earliest version, in Munich3 is roughly the same size as the present work, but the composition appears uncomfortably crowded and it is executed largely in monochrome.  The next, dated 1602, is a larger work in Braunschweig,4 that owes a great deal to the engraving by Goltzius.  Like the print, it is set in the clouds, which are the organizing vehicle of the composition. 

The present work, which follows next chronologically and precedes the Wedding of Peleus and Thetis of 1612 in Williamstown,5 is the among the most elegant and satisfying of the entire group.6  The painting is divided into three fields:  the large figures in the foreground near a large birch tree, the smaller figures at the banquet table, and a variety of goddesses and putti in the clouds above.  The individual figures gather into small distinct groups but their attributes and gestures create a rhythm that carries across the composition, thereby tying these groups together.  For example, while Cupid watches Mars and Venus, his arrow points up to the amorous couple to the right of the tree; similarly Minerva stands with Hercules in the middle ground at the left, and her spear links them to Bacchus below and the serving table above.  The ultra-refined figures, most at least partly undressed, clearly show Wtewael's skill in depicting the human form and his remarkable inventiveness, as no pose is repeated.  He uses vivid colors both as accents and to pull the different complex elements together.  We witness this perhaps most clearly in the deep blue garments that carry across the foreground groups, then back to the couple by the tree, across to Minerva and further back to the standing servant's hat.  

Karel van Mander praised Wtewael both for his refinement and his versatility.  In a tantalizing paragraph in his life of the artist of 1604, he refers to a picture that has been linked with this work and also with early versions of The Wedding of Peleus and Thetis.  He lauds it for its beauty and identifies its as belonging to Jean Nicquet or his son, merchants and collectors in Amsterdam, but he gives very few visual details about the composition:  One comes across many small pieces of excellent precision and neatness by him:  firstly in Amsterdam with Mr Joan Ycket, or his son, there is an outstanding small piece on copper by him, a Banquet of the gods, full of detail and very subtly and carefully executed.7   While we cannot be certain if it is this or another banqueting scene that Van Mander is referring to, his characterization of the work in question – its style and quality – is consonant with what we see in this Banquet of the Gods. 

1.  See Kloek, in Literature.
2.  Lowenthal lists six extant versions of the subject and a seventh whose current whereabouts were unknown, cat. nos. A-4, A-20, A-49, A-50, A-53, A-81 and C-50.   See Literature.  An eighth version is in the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, in Williamstown, Mass.
3. See Lowenthal, in Literature, pp. 82-83, cat. no. A-4, reproduced plate 5.
4. See ibid., pp. 100-101, cat. no. A-20, reproduced plate 31.
5. See A. Wheelock, in Literature, pp. 143-145, cat. no. 31, reproduced.
6.  Lowenthal dates the present work to 1601-09, while Kloek suggests a date of c.1605.  See Literature.  
7.  H. Miedema, ed., Karel van Mander.  The lives of the Illustrious Netherlandish and German Painters, Doornspijk 1994, vol. I, p. 445.