W e are pleased to present our July Evening Sale of Old Master Paintings, which includes a particularly strong selection of works from the Dutch Golden Age, led by Willem Van de Velde the Younger's masterpiece, The Surrender of the Royal Prince during The Four Days' Battle, 11–14 June 1666 – a painting that has hung in the Rijksmuseum for the last decade. Presented alongside this are fine winter landscapes by Adam van Breen and Anthonie Verstraelen, a poetic Haarlem church interior by Pieter Saenredam and a view of the city by Gerrit Berckheyde, as well as one of Pieter Brueghel the Younger's most original compositions. The sale also includes fascinating Italian works, from a dramatic and high-quality Caravaggesque Crowning with Thorns, to an intriguing Christ once ascribed to Titian and Giorgione, and two of the best works by Venetian painter Jacopo Amigoni ever to come to market.
Sotheby's Presents Old Masters Evening Auction
"The use of the sea and air is common to all."
Though written by the sovereign of an island nation, this sentiment could as easily have been the rallying cry of the Dutch, whose extensive coastline and inland waterways naturally provided a rich source of inspiration to generations of artists, celebrating their country's maritime prowess. Their conquering of the waves during a period that saw the expansion of global exploration and an economic boom, is evocatively depicted in four paintings presented this season.
Fishing was of crucial importance to the Dutch economy in the 17th century, and Adam Willaerts' fanciful coastal view of 1616 is grounded by the realistic details of fishermen and women sorting their catch on the beach. Painted fifty years later by the greatest marine artist of the Dutch Golden Age and perhaps the earliest war artist, Willem Van de Velde the Younger's masterly representation of the capture of an English flagship was clearly one of enormous appeal to a Dutch audience, celebrating a key maritime victory during The Four Days' Battle in 1666. In his understanding of the sea and atmosphere, and in turn the effect on ships of all shapes and sizes rendered with astonishing accuracy, Willem Van de Velde created a legacy for marine painting that would have a lasting influence on painters well into the 19th century. The tempestuous seascape by Ludolf Backhuysen, executed in 1675 at the height of his career, may be regarded as a direct inheritor of Van De Velde's example, and the drama of the stormy water and dark sky precursors of the appreciation for the Sublime with which Turner would later imbue his marine paintings. In contrast to this are the sunny pair of views by Abraham Storck, probably painted around the turn of the century, depicting the wide variety of vessels, including a Dutch East India Company barge, in the busy waters off Rotterdam and Amsterdam, showing just how prosperous The Netherlands had become thanks to their sea-faring success.
A Closer Look at Bernardino di Mariotto dello Stagno's "The Virgin and Child"
THE VIRGIN AND CHILD, A LANDSCAPE BEYOND WITH SAINT JEROME AND SAINT JOHN AND A VIEW OF VENICE, WITH A FEIGNED BAS-RELIEF OF PUTTI AT PLAY.
- The Crown
Embellished with semi-precious stones, the crown is rendered in pastiglia (see surface decoration) to create a sumptuous three-dimensional effect. Two emeralds – one at the far left, the other at the far right – do not have the standardised cut styles of the other ‘stones’, indicating that they are likely to be original, while the other three were set into the crown as replacements. The white ‘stone’ is opaline glass, not developed until the 19th century; the red one is also glass; and the purple stone with a standardised cut has been identified as amethyst.
- Surface decoration
Known in Italian as pastiglia, a term meaning ‘pastework’, it refers to low-relief decoration in gesso. Applied in the form of paste into moulded sections or incised and carved and then gilded, as seen here to splendid effect, it is used to form decorative motifs, such as the eye-catching three-dimensional forms on the Virgin’s crown and the Christ Child’s orb, as well around their jewels and on the Virgin’s bodice. The green stone worn by Christ may be an emerald, while the Madonna’s brooch, which serves as a clasp for her veil, is set with an amethyst.
- Salvator Mundi
The Christ Child appears as the Salvator Mundi – the ‘Saviour of the World’ – holding a crystal orb in his left hand and raising his right hand in blessing. The orb, which is surmounted by an elaborate golden cross, symbolises Christ’s rule on earth.
Instantly recognisable as one of Venice’s most famous public spaces, St Mark’s Square – and its extension the Piazzetta – is clearly visible here, its landmarks all carefully depicted: the Campanile, the Torre dell’Orologio and the Doge’s Palace facing the lagoon. A highly unusual feature in a painting of this date, such a view of Venice would have been known to Bernardino presumably through contemporary depictions, since he is not known to have travelled to the north-east of Italy.
- Ornate drapery
The sumptuous brocades in this painting comprise a key aspect of Bernardino’s ornamental vocabulary. Red and gold curtains open theatrically to reveal the Virgin and her Son. The Virgin wears a gold-patterned brocade mantle, with contrasting lining over a crimson dress. To create the sumptuous effect of red-thread brocade over gold, for instance in the slashed sleeves, Bernardino has used glazes on top of gold leaf to render areas of shadow.
- Saint Jerome and Saint John the Baptist
In the landscape beyond, two saints flank the Virgin and Child. On the left, the penitent Saint Jerome kneels before a crucifix; in the distance a path leads towards a rare depiction of an early Christian tomb, examples of which can still be found in the Kidron Valley outside Jerusalem. On the right, Saint John the Baptist walks towards the viewer; behind him, a view of Venice and the Piazzetta.
The colourful marbled effect of the parapet contrasts with the relief of putti, which is painted in grisaille using a subtle range of greys to create the illusion that it is a carved stone frieze. Such elements done ‘all’antica’ – ‘in the antique manner’ – are used to evoke the classical past (see classical garb). The reverse of the panel is painted to imitate green porphyry.
- Classical garb
The Christ Child’s attire, with its classical connotations, is highly unusual. The classically inspired calf-length laced and open-toed boots that he wears are another instance of the artist drawing on all’antica models. The neckline and hem of the Christ Child’s tunic is embellished with a pearl border and the long fringed sleeves are edged with forms resembling acanthus leaves.
Described as a frieze of infant Bacchanalians in the catalogue of the 1911 sale, these putti appear to be role playing at court: two are enthroned, while others prepare food offerings and make music.
- Kidron Valley
Ancient rock-cut tombs, such as the one depicted here, are among the best-known landmarks found in the burial grounds in the Kidron Valley near the Old City of Jerusalem.
Depictions of people making merry, drinking and carousing, were first popularised in the 16th century by Pieter Breugel the Elder. The theme soon developed into an entirely new genre that was particularly favoured in the Low Countries and The Netherlands, in paintings that depicted all levels of society engaged in celebrations, from groups in and outside taverns, to elegant companies at banquets, weddings, or even skating on the ice.
These subjects provided artists with the opportunity to render not only contemporay dress and recognisable food and objects, but also humorous and - as ever - associated moralising themes, reminding the audience that the earthly pleasures reflected in such scenes were only ever transient vanities. Explore these four paintings to find these sorts of double-edged details: a boy blowing a bubble; a man relieving himself; a cuckolded husband; and a man who has literally been treading on thin ice.