The three key drawings with which this important new discovery can be compared are The Stoning of Saint Paul at Lystra (London, British Museum), Mercury and Argus, and the double-sided sheet with a Sleeping Satyr on the recto and Three Men and a Boy in a Wooded Landscape on the verso (both sheets in Dresden, Kupferstichkabinett).1 The Mercury and Argus, signed with initials, is the preparatory study, in reverse for Lievens’s etching (B.10, Holl. 18), and is the crucial drawing for this stage of Lievens’s career, but in fact the penmanship seen here, broad and cursive, with strong outlining and powerful, rhythmic hatching, is more similar to that seen in The Stoning of Saint Paul at Lystra, which is generally dated a little earlier than the Dresden drawing.
Pen and ink figure drawings by Lievens are extremely rare, and only one example of a significant work of this type has come on the market in recent years: the enigmatic drawing of A Group of Standing Monks and Other Figures, recently sold from the collection of Professor Egbert Haverkamp-Begemann, and now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.2 The unusual subject of that drawing may perhaps relate not to a real event but to a theatrical production, and the same could well be true for the present drawing. (When he worked in Amsterdam in the 1640s and ‘50s, the circle that provided Lievens with many of the sitters for his distinctive portrait drawings included a number of actors and playwrights, but it is not clear that he also frequented this world in his earliest years, in Leiden.) The scene seen here has been convincingly interpreted by Schnackenburg as an allegory of falsehood. The composition is a complex one. In the left part, we see a grandly dressed man in a feathered hat holding out his arms in a welcoming gesture, flanked by a woman who makes a burnt offering, and another figure who holds up a mask. To the right, standing slightly higher, in a portico, are two men, the younger of whom seems to be the recipient of the gentleman’s invitation, but who hesitates to accept, turning to his older companion for guidance. Citing the work of G. Werner, Schnackenburg identifies in the composition symbols of deception and falsehood, but the exact subject must, for the time being, remain unknown.
The half-length figure study on the verso, very rapidly sketched in red chalk, has no close parallels in Lievens’s works of this very early period, but both the handling and the sheer rapidity of execution can to some extent be compared with the fascinating, and unique, red and black chalk drawing of The Sermon of John the Baptist, in Dresden3, yet another work that has no precise parallels in the drawn oeuvre of this mercurial and constantly developing artist.
Despite the fact that Lievens revised the position of the young man to the right, the drawing on the recto is executed with great confidence and assurance, belying the artist’s young age at the time. It is not only an intriguing and engaging image, but also a very significant addition to the extremely small group of pen and ink figure drawings by Lievens.
1. Inv. nos, respectively SL,5236.124; C1980-456; C 1434; see G. Rubinstein, in Jan Lievens, A Dutch Master Rediscovered, exhib. cat., Washington DC, National Gallery of Art, et al, 2008-9, pp. 226-7, nos. 88-89, and Schnackenburg, op. cit., nos. 27, 39 & 40
2. Inv. no. 2018.512; sale, New York, Sotheby’s, 31 January 2018, lot 288
3. Inv. no. C 1446; Schnackenburg, op. cit., pp. 280-281, no. 97
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