Old Master and British Works on Paper

Old Master and British Works on Paper

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 75. Recto: Prometheus bound Verso: Calligraphic exercises.

Property from the collection of the late Walter L. Strauss

Dirk de Quade van Ravesteyn

Recto: Prometheus bound Verso: Calligraphic exercises

Lot Closed

January 26, 07:01 PM GMT


5,000 - 7,000 USD

Lot Details


Property from the collection of the late Walter L. Strauss

Dirk de Quade van Ravesteyn

circa 1565 - after 1619

Recto: Prometheus bound

Verso: Calligraphic exercises

Red chalk and stumping with touches of black chalk (recto); pen and brown ink (verso);

signed with the artist's initials, in red chalk, lower right: QVR

bears old attribution in black chalk, versoquade Re...

202 by 302 mm; 7⅞ by 11⅞ in.

Albert van Loock (1917-2011), Rouen (L.3751);
Walter L. Strauss, New York (1922-1988),
thence by descent

Extremely little is known of Quade van Ravesteyn's life, though it is thought he originated from 's-Hertogenbosch, in the Netherlands. From 1589 until around 1608, he worked at the extraordinary Prague court of the Holy Roman Emperor, Rudolf II (1552-1612), alongside a variety of leading artists from all over Europe.  

Only a very few drawings can be attributed to Quade van Ravesteyn, all on the basis of comparison with a signed red and black chalk drawing of Cupid Stung by Bees Running to Venus, in Budapest.1 The handling in the present drawing seems very comparable to that sheet, and the mythological subject-matter and figure type is also typical of the artist's painted works.2 

We are grateful to Dr. Marco Simone Bolzoni for bringing to our attention a drawing in the Albertina, Vienna, attributed to Giuseppe or Bernadino Cesari, with a closely related composition.3 Given the differences of details, especially in the tree and the angle of the figure’s head, it seems possible that both drawings look back at an earlier prototype. 

In the Greek myth, Prometheus defied the gods by stealing fire from them, passing it on to humanity, and thereby giving them technology and civilisation. For this he was sentenced by Zeus to eternal torment, bound to a rock, with an eagle (symbolising Zeus) pecking out his liver – which miraculously grew back each night, only to be pecked out again the following day. In terms of imagery, the myth of Tityus is closely related: slain by Artemis and Apollo for attempting to rape their mother, Leto, Tityus was condemned to eternal torment in Tartarus, where two vultures constantly pecked out his regrowing liver.  Both scenes were represented in a number of Attic vase decorations, and frequently in paintings, drawings and prints, in the Renaissance and beyond. Perhaps the most familiar image of all – and certainly the most widely copied and engraved – is Michelangelo’s drawing, historically identified as Tityus, in the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle, which is broadly similar in composition to the present drawing, but shows the eagle and the tree in rather different positions.4 Michelangelo’s drawing was made around 1530, and was in the Farnese Collection until acquired by King George III in the 18th century.  

1. Budapest, Museum of Fine Arts, inv. 314; https://www.mfab.hu/artworks/amor-stung-by-bees-running-to-venus/ 

2. E. Fučíková, Rudolf II and Prague. The Court and the City, exh. cat., Prague Castle, 1997, pp. 30-33, figs. I.31, I.34

3. Vienna, Albertina, inv. 758; https://sammlungenonline.albertina.at/default.aspx?lng=english2#/query/38502564-4b0a-4dec-9522-848a4ecc5bfd (as Prometheus)

4. Windsor Castle, Royal Collection, RCIN 912771; https://www.rct.uk/collection/912771/the-punishment-of-tityus