ABRAHAM DOORNBOS | The Adoration of the Mule
Property from the SØR Rusche Collection
active Amsterdam circa 1670 - 1679
THE ADORATION OF THE MULE
signed and dated lower right: A. R. Doorenbos F / 1670 [or 9?]
oil on canvas
unframed: 40.7 x 37 cm.; 16 x 14½ in.
framed: 52.5 x 48.5 cm.; 20¾ x 19¼ in.
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The canvas is lined. The paint surface is dirty and the varnish is discolored and uneven. A degree of wear to the paint surface is visible throughout. Inspection under UV light reveals the uneven varnish, but apparently very little other intervention. A small spot of restoration in archway at upper left and a restoration to a damage at the centre of the upper margin. There also appears to be a line of retouching in the center of the righthand margin. in overall fair condition.
The lot is sold in the condition it is in at the time of sale. The condition report is provided to assist you with assessing the condition of the lot and is for guidance only. Any reference to condition in the condition report for the lot does not amount to a full description of condition. The images of the lot form part of the condition report for the lot provided by Sotheby's. Certain images of the lot provided online may not accurately reflect the actual condition of the lot. In particular, the online images may represent colours and shades which are different to the lot's actual colour and shades. The condition report for the lot may make reference to particular imperfections of the lot but you should note that the lot may have other faults not expressly referred to in the condition report for the lot or shown in the online images of the lot. The condition report may not refer to all faults, restoration, alteration or adaptation because Sotheby's is not a professional conservator or restorer but rather the condition report is a statement of opinion genuinely held by Sotheby's. For that reason, Sotheby's condition report is not an alternative to taking your own professional advice regarding the condition of the lot.
Please note, Condition 11 of the Conditions of Business for Buyers (Online Only) is not applicable to this lot.
Anonymous sale, Amsterdam, Paul Brandt, 7 April 1975, lot 3 (as R. Doornbos and as dated 1679), where acquired.
H.-J. Raupp (ed.), Niederländische Malerei des. 17. Jahrhunderts der SØR Rusche-Sammlung, vol. 2, Genre, Münster/Hamburg/London 1996, pp. 98-101, cat. no. 22, reproduced in colour;
W. Pijbes, M. Aarts, M.J. Bok et al, At Home in the Golden Age, exh. cat., Zwolle 2008, p. 89, cat. no. 79, reproduced in colour.
Rotterdam, Kunsthal, At Home in the Golden Age, 9 February – 18 May 2008, no. 79.
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Relatively little is known about the life of the rare Dutch artist Abraham Doornbos, who seems to have been active in Amsterdam around 1679. At the center of this intriguing composition is a splendidly adorned white mule, wearing a harness, bridle, and muzzle of bright red leather with gold detail. Two figures along with their hound stand attentively in adoration as the mule passes before them. Beyond this brightly illumined and refined group appear more loosely-rendered details, including a house in shadow, two mules, a camel, and a mountainous landscape.
The theme represented here, though relatively uncommon, has roots in the Reformation. Martin van Heemskerk captured this subject in his 1549 print, The adoration of an idol of Isis, in which a large group of figures fall to their knees before a pagan statue balanced atop a richly dressed mule. The mule, thinking the adoration is for him, is then whipped by his attendant to remind him that the pious prayers are meant for the statue and not the animal. Heemskerk’s composition seems to have been inspired by Andrea Alciati's Emblamata, for a print from a 1547 publication of this text showing a crowd of people kneeling before a mule carrying a shrine. The moralising tale illustrated in these images concerns individuals who let notions of power go to their head.1
Emblazoned on the mule's saddle in the present work is the coat of arms of Pope Alexander VII, who was born Fabio Chigi and who reigned as leader of the Catholic Church from 1655-1667. Although the aforementioned moralising tale has subtle roots in this composition, Doornbos seems also to include a visual commentary on the Catholic worship of religious imagery in any form, including papal imagery, in favour of reading Holy Scripture. Such a message would have been familiar to audiences in the Protestant Netherlands.
1 For a further discussion on this theme and for reproductions of the two aforementioned prints, see I. Markz-Veldman, ‘The Idol on the Ass; Fortune and the Sleeper: Maarten van Heemskerck's Use of Emblem and Proverb Books in Two Prints,’ in Simiolus: Netherlands Quarterly for the History of Art, vol. 6, no. 1, 1972-73, pp. 20-28.