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Old Masters Online | Part I: Property from the SØR Rusche Collection | Part II: Property from Various Owners

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 15. ABRAHAM DOORNBOS | The Adoration of the Mule.

Property from the SØR Rusche Collection

ABRAHAM DOORNBOS | The Adoration of the Mule

Lot Closed

September 19, 02:16 PM GMT


1,500 - 2,000 GBP

Lot Details


Property from the SØR Rusche Collection


active Amsterdam circa 1670 - 1679


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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Dr. Sassenscheid;

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 alAt Home in the Golden Age, exh. cat., Zwolle 2008, p. 89, cat. no. 79, reproduced in colour.

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.