His posthumous sale, Soeterwoude near Leiden, Delfos, 5 September 1781, lot 64 (together with a companion panel of the Battle between the Gods and Titans), 91 Dfl. to Delfos;
Probably Menno Baron van Coehoorn, The Hague;
His posthumous sale, Amsterdam, Van der Schley, 19 October 1801, lot 82 ;
HRH Prince Hendrik of the Netherlands, Prince of Orange-Nassau (1820–1879), Holland (whose coat-of-arms was formerly on the frame, according to the sale catalogue of 1895 below);
Henry Doetsch (1839–1894), New Burlington Street, London;
His posthumous sale, London, Christie’s, 22–25 June 1895, lot 345, 17 guineas to H. Quilter;
Jean-Claude Barrié, Bois-Colombes, Paris (his collector's mark on the reverse of the panel);
Lucien-Michel Chevalier, Paris;
By whom sold ('The Property of a French Private Collector') New York, Sotheby's, 30 January 1997, lot 24;
There acquired for the present collection.
C.M.A.A. Lindeman, Joachim Anthonisz, Wtewael, 1929, pp. 56 (datable to 1607–12), 82–83, 252, no. 28, reproduced pl. 5;
F. Antal, 'Zum Problem des niederländischen Manierismus', Kritische Berichte zur kunstgeschichtlichen Literatur, 1–2, 1927–29, p. 232, n. 1; translated and reprinted in F. Antal (ed.), Classicism and Romanticism, London 1966, pp. 47–106;
C.M.A.A. Lindeman 'Wtewael', in Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler, U. Thieme and E. Becker (eds), vol. XXXVI, 1947, p. 286;
A.W. Lowenthal, Joachim Wtewael and Dutch Mannerism, 1986, pp. 124–25, no. A-51, 132, 160, reproduced pl. 72;
R. Ward and M.K. Komanecky, in Copper as Canvas, exh. cat., Phoenix, Kansas and The Hague, New York and Oxford 1999, p. 322, reproduced.
The origins of Wtewael’s mannerist style are probably to be found in his four-year trip to Italy and France with his first patron, Charles de Bourgneauf de Cucé, Bishop of St Malo between 1588 and 1592, for his earliest works suggest a familiarity with the art of Parmigianino and the Fontainbleau School. But undoubtedly his greatest sources of inspiration were to be found after his return to Utrecht in 1592, in the work of the generation of northern Netherlandish painters and engravers in Haarlem and Utrecht such as Hendrick Goltzius (1558–1617), Cornelis van Haarlem (1562–1638) and Abraham Bloemaert (1566–1651), and above all in the art of Bartolomeus Spranger (1546–1611), a native of Antwerp who worked for the Emperor Rudolph II in Prague. Wtewael’s enthusiastic response to their designs from the 1580s and the following decade would exercise a vital and enduring influence over his own style for the whole of his career. To their contrived spatiality and elegant artificiality of pose, he added – especially in his small panels such as this – a highly colourful palette and meticulous polished finish, both of which were no doubt a legacy from his very earliest training in his father’s glassworks in Utrecht.
Although he did work on a larger scale and in other media such as canvas, Wtewael’s most successful and sought-after works were undoubtedly small cabinet paintings of this type, especially on copper panels, whose smooth surface allowed him to show off a highly refined miniaturist technique to best advantage. His pictures on this tiny scale such as the present work were highly finished, detailed and brightly coloured, and undoubtedly meant to be physically handled, the better to appreciate their highly wrought and enamelled surfaces. Wtewael’s skill in this field earned him international renown. His contemporary biographer Karel van Mander, writing in his Het Schilder-Boeck in 1604 considered him '...very excellent and subtle in all aspects of art' and ranked him 'among our best Netherlandish painters'. He further remarked that 'it would be difficult to say at which he is the more outstanding: whether on a large or a small scale... One comes across many small pieces of excellent precision and neatness by him'.1 Wtewael’s predilection for copper as a support was exceptional, even in the context of his Netherlandish contemporaries. Between 1592 and 1612 more than thirty of Wtewael’s fifty-eight known work were painted on copper, more than half of which were mythological subjects, an enthusiasm matched only by his celebrated Flemish contemporary Jan Brueghel the Elder (1568–1625).2 The popularity of these coppers is suggested by the fact that he frequently painted some subjects in more than one version. His treatment of the subject of Mars and Venus, for example, was painted by him on at least four occasions, including two exceptional copper plates of 1610 (Mauritshuis, The Hague) and 1605–10 (J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles).3 Similarly he painted the Wedding of Peleus and Thetis four times, with examples now divided between the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Nancy (1606–10), the Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum in Braunschweig (1602), a private collection (c. 1606–10), and the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown (1612), the last having the joint distinction of being the largest and latest copper plate by Wtewael to have survived.
For the present panel, Wtewael returned to a design he had first explored in a larger panel painted the year before in 1607, today at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna (fig. 1).4 This was on a larger scale (57.5 x 78 cm.) but employed a broadly similar composition. In the present panel the figure of Actaeon is given greater prominence by being brought much closer to the viewer and placed upon a bridge rather than seen through a rocky arch, and further enhanced by being seen in silhouette. The basic disposition of the bodies of Diana and her nymphs is followed, but the distant landscape in the Vienna panel in which Actaeon meets his grisly fate is here discarded. As Anne Lowenthal has observed, likely sources of inspiration for Wtewael’s design probably included two engravings after Paulus Moreelse, one by Jacob Matham (fig. 2) and the other by Jan Saenredam, both dating to 1606.5 A drawing in the Hessisches Landesmuseum in Darmstadt may be related to the Vienna panel, but its autograph status is doubted by Lowenthal.6 The contre jour effect of viewing Actaeon’s body against the light had also been explored by Wtewael in an earlier copper depicting another episode from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the story of the Apulian shepherd, probably painted around 1604–05 and now in a private collection.7 Wtewael’s reprise of the Vienna painting on a smaller scale seems to have been a conscious attempt to produce a more refined and cabinet-sized variation on the theme, in which his sheer technical facility and virtuosity would stand out. As Arthur Wheelock has recently observed, it may be that he was also influenced by contemporary goldsmith’s work (fig. 3) and sought to emulate the opulence of luxurious kunstkammer objects in the fashionable auricular style.8 The elegant mannerist contrapposto of the reclining nymphs and their contrasting skin tones feels reminiscent of the gilt and silver gilt surfaces of such refined objects. Wtewael returned to the subject of Diana and Actaeon for the last time a few years later in a much larger octagonal panel of 1612, today at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.9
To judge from the comments of both Karel van Mander and Joachim van Sandrart, pictures such as this were evidently in as much demand in Wtewael’s time as they are today. It is not difficult to understand the attraction of such pictures for contemporary collectors. The jewel-like colour and meticulous execution of these panels meant that they were meant to be seen close to and physically handled, and their durability ensured their enduring popularity. The combination of sensual and aesthetic delight was complemented by the intellectual enjoyment derived from the subject’s classical pedigree – Ovid’s tale was widely available to the Dutch public through translations such as that of Johannes Florianus, first published in 1552 and reprinted several times through the seventeenth century. Although it is perhaps too simplistic to seek for underlying moral messages in all such works, Wtewael’s contemporaries might very well have interpreted the story of Diana and Actaeon as an admonishment against the weakness of the flesh.
Most of Wtewael’s paintings were probably sold to local collectors in his home city of Utrecht. By contrast, relatively few pictures by him entered, for example, collections in Amsterdam. This was no doubt due to the fact that, as his fellow painter Joachim von Sandrart pointed out after visiting him, Wtewael’s profitable business interests – he was a successful flax merchant – meant that he did not need to paint for a living.10 It may also reflect the relatively conservative aristocratic taste of his patrons in Utrecht, in whose social and political circles he moved. As an artist, Wtewael remained largely unaffected by the new naturalism of Caravaggio and his followers then being introduced to the north by painters such as Hendrick ter Brugghen. His was the last great flourish of the great northern mannerist tradition, exemplified by Goltzius and Bloemaert in the Netherlands and Spranger in Prague, all of whose designs had inspired him. Unlike them, however, he only rarely produced designs for prints which would have spread his reputation even further afield. Nor did he require the assistance of a large workshop, although he must have employed some assistants, foremost among them his eldest son Pieter (1596–1660). Wtewael’s last known painting dates from 1628, and after this it seems that he stopped painting for good. Of the hundred or so paintings by him to have come down to us, the refined and brilliant copper panels such as the present work remain his finest achievements, and indeed must be counted among the greatest of all Mannerist paintings in the north.
1 K. Van Mander, Het Schilder-boeck: The Lives of the Illustrious Netherlandish and German Painters, 1603–04, H. Midema (ed.), Doornspijk 1994, vol. I (text), fol. 296v–297r, pp. 445–46.
2 See A.W. Lowenthal in the catalogue of the exhibition, Masters of Light, Dutch Painters in Utrecht during the Golden Age, New Haven and London 1997, especially p. 277.
3 Lowenthal 1986, pp. 97 and 117, nos A-18 and A-44.
4 Inv. 1052. Panel 58 x 79 cm. Lowenthal 1986, p. 121, no. A-46, reproduced pl. 64. The painting may have been sold directly to the Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria, in whose inventory of 1659 it appears.
5 Lowenthal 1986, under no. A-46, reproduced figs 37 and 38.
6 Inv. no. AE 371. Lowenthal 1986, p. 121, reproduced pl. 65.
7 Exhibited Washington, National Gallery of Art, Utrecht, Centraal Museum and Houston, Museum of Fine Arts, Pleasure and Piety. The Art of Joachim Wtewael, 2015, no. 14.
8 See A. Wheelock, ‘Wtewael’s historical reputation’, in Pleasure and Piety. The Art of Joachim Wtewael, exh. cat., Washington, Utrecht and Houston, 2015, pp. 42–43.
9 Inv. No 57.119. Lowenthal 1986, p. 131, no. A-60, reproduced plate 86. The author also lists pictures at Upton House (Bearsted Collection), Warwickshire, and Musée de la Chartreuse in Douai, the former of doubtful authenticity and the latter possibly a copy after a lost original.
10 J. Von Sandrart, Academie der Bau-, Bild-, und Mahlerey-Künste, Nuremberg 1675, part ii, book 3, p. 289. See also Wheelock 2015, pp. 38–47. Many of Wtewael’s pictures clearly remained in his possession, for his family inherited over thirty paintings at his death. Whether this is because he had failed to sell them or for other more personal reasons is not known.
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