There is a prominent fingerprint in the top right corner of Van Dyck’s painting of Thomas which we examined yesterday.
Could this be the fingerprint of the Master himself? The print has been made in the wet paint before the application of the varnish. It would have been extremely unusual for a studio assistant to touch or move the Master’s work before the paint had dried and the varnish applied.
So there is the intriguing possibility that this is Van Dyck’s print. We would like to find more fingerprints on Van Dyck paintings for further comparison – let us know if you know of another one!
Joost Vander Auwera/Justin Davies
JVDPPP recently undertook a whistlestop tour of Genoa, Cremona and Vicenza. In Genoa, we followed in the footsteps of Van Dyck himself to the Palazzo Rozzo, where his magnificent portraits of the Brignole-Sale family painted in 1627 still hang. In 1739, it is recorded that Don Giovanni Francesco III Brignole-Sale, who was the Genoese Ambassador to the court of Louis XIV in France, owned a Christ and twelve Apostles by Van Dyck. The Christ remains in the Palazzo as it was given to the city of Genoa in 1874. The twelve apostles were sold in 1914 to the Munich based art dealer Julius Böhler. They are now spread around the world. JVDPPP is travelling to study them one by one – if anyone knows the whereabouts of Matthias, last seen at Christie’s in 1929 please let us know!
The Christ is beautifully painted by a young Van Dyck, still in his teens or very early twenties. A clear mark of his genius is the sheer economy of effort used to create the bark on Christ’s cross. It is achieved by a few swift strokes of paint on the brown under layer (imprimatura) of the panel.
We examined the painting and its oak panel in the atmospheric surroundings of the mezzanine level, the former winter quarters, of the Palazzo. There are plans to open it to the public in the future. Joost spotted that there is probably under drawing in black crayon on the edge of the muscle on Christ’s right arm. This is an interesting discovery. Given that Van Dyck copied the Christ from a painting by Rubens (now lost, the accompanying twelve Apostles are in the Prado, Madrid), did he do a full drawing in black crayon before painting? Rafaella and Elisa, the curators at the Palazzo Rosso have kindly agreed to infra-red the painting and share the results with us.
Johannes found the tree growth rings on the edge of the panel. The three planks of Christ come from three different Baltic oak trees. The possible horror of dendrochronology would be to discover that the oak trees, that started growing in the Middle Ages, might have been cut down after Van Dyck died in 1641. However, in the case of Christ Johannes has calculated a felling date between 1600 and 1620. More excitingly, and a unique feature of our project, is that Johannes can determine whether the planks on the Christ are from the same or neighbouring trees as other Van Dyck panel paintings we have examined across the world. Initial indications are that this is indeed the case. Watch this space…
From Genoa, we drove to Cremona and La Pinacoteca Ala Ponzone of the Museo Civico, housed in the 16th century Palazzo Affaitati. We went to see a copy on canvas of Van Dyck’s panel painting of The Crucifixion with Saint Francis, now in the Courtauld Institute Gallery, London (oil on panel, 50 x 36 cm, inv. no. 303). The tightness and exactness of the drawing reminded us of the style of an Antwerp based artist who knew Van Dyck and his paintings well, Abraham van Diepenbeeck (c. 1596 – 1675). This copy proves the contemporary popularity of Van Dyck’s compositions. Given that this Crucifixion only entered the museum’s collection in 1960, we will be looking for mentions of this copy in old inventories and sales catalogues.
From Cremona to the Musei Civici di Vicenza and the Palazzo Bianco. We were searching for a little-known panel in the museum storage – The Adoration of the Shepherds. It is described in the most recent museum catalogue (2009) as a copy after Jacques Jordaens. It had entered the museum’s collections in 1902 as being a painting in the style of Erasmus II Quellinus (1607 – 1678). We were eager to see it. The museum catalogue records that the art historian Michael Jaffé had been consulted by the museum in 1957 and declared the painting to be a copy after Jordaens. However, we had also discovered that another Jordaens scholar, Roger d’Hulst thought differently and considered that the Vicenza Adoration was an original by Jordaens. This opinion was buried as footnote 49 on p. 331 on the notes to Chapter III in his 1982 monograph on the artist.
The 20th Century backing panel was removed. The reverse of the original oak panel revealed both a panel maker’s mark and the Antwerp brand mark of the Guild of Saint Luke. The panel maker’s mark is that presently ascribed to Guilliam Aertsens, who was active as a panel maker from 1612 (when he became a Master in the Guild of St Luke) to 1626 and possibly beyond.
Johannes has determined that the panel is made from Lithuanian oak trees that we have found before on our travels. The trees would likely have been felled after 1611 and probably between around 1615 to 1625.
The front of the painting was also revealing. The eagle-eyed Frances Hargreaves, an intern at the museum in Vicenza, was the first to spot a ghostly head of a woman on the right of the painting. When and why was this head overpainted? By Jordaens or someone else? We are looking forward to receiving x-rays and infrareds from Chiara.
As the visits continue, we are gathering more and more material for our research on Jordaens, Van Dyck and panel marks. We will soon combine these object orientated findings with new archival research in the Antwerp and other archives when our Archival Research Fellows are appointed.
Thank you to Raffaella in Genoa, Mario in Cremona and Chiara in Vicenza for their kind facilitation to the paintings in their collections and the stimulating discussions that followed.
JVDPPP is studying the small grisaille portraits on oak panel that relate to Van Dyck’s ‘Iconography’ – a series of engravings depicting the famous men and women of his day. Sometime after their deaths in 1640 and 1641 respectively, Erasmus Quellinus (1607-1678) designed a double portrait of the ‘princes of painting’, Rubens and Van Dyck. The faces were derived from Van Dyck’s ‘Iconography’ and the engraving was executed by Paulus Pontius (1603-1658). Pontius had also produced some of the engravings for the ‘Iconography’.
Rubens and Van Dyck are described as ‘Eques’ – Knights. Both were knighted by King Charles I, in 1630 and 1632, and Rubens was also knighted by King Philip IV of Spain in 1624. The coat of arms on the bottom left of the engraving belongs to Rubens. It was published by W. Nöel Sainsbury in 1859 in his Original Unpublished Papers illustrative of the life of Sir Peter Paul Rubens. The legend states that the coat of arms was certified at the Heralds Office, Brussels.
Therefore, it is possible that the coat of arms on the right of the engraving belongs to Van Dyck. It features only in this print and has not been published elsewhere, as far as we can find.
Delving into the archives of the Brussels Herald’s Office to confirm that it is indeed Van Dyck’s coat of arms will be one of the projects for our new Archival Research Fellow (to be appointed soon).
P.S. The eagle-eyed will immediately spot that the arms contain two saltires (diagonal crosses) and that a saltire featured in the arms of Van Dyck’s friend, George Gage. It can be seen on the column in Van Dyck’s George Gage with Two Men painted in Rome ten years before he was knighted and now in The National Gallery, London.
Update: It is Van Dyck’s coat of arms! Thank you to Karen Hearn for sending us the description, and to Norroy and Ulster King of Arms for confirming that the description matches with the engraving, contained in Michael Siddons’ The Heraldry of Foreigners in England 1400-1700, 2010, p. 123. We will now try to find the original application and colour design in the archives.
ARMS: Quarters 1 & 4. Azure six roundels 3, 2 and 1 Or and for augmentation on a chief Gules a lion passant gardant Or. 2 & 3. Sable a saltire Or. Over all an inescutcheon Or thereon a bend sinister Azure.
CREST: A greyhound’s head.
JVDPPP examined 44 paintings from 17 public and private collections. We would like to thank the curators, conservators and owners at the following for their considerable assistance: the National Gallery, London; Museo de Arte de Ponce, Puerto Rico; Bass Museum of Art, Miami; The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota; Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest; Galerija Božidar Jakac, Konstanjevica na Krki, Slovenia; Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam; Musée des Beaux-Arts de Valenciennes; Musée des Beaux-Arts de Besançon; Rockoxhuis, Antwerp; Royal Museums of Fine Arts Belgium, Brussels; private collections, London and Belgium.
In 1628-9 Van Dyck was commissioned to paint a group portrait of the Brussels City Council. It contained 23 life-size portraits. This is more than appear in Rembrandt’s famous The Night Watch (1642). It was the largest painting that Van Dyck executed and achieved great fame across the Netherlands. It hung in Brussels Town Hall but was destroyed during the French bombardment of the city August 13-15th, 1695.
JVDPPP unearthed a new and rare archival reference to the painting in a Swedish archive. A Swedish nobleman, Mårten Törnhielm, visited Brussels in 1687 in the company of the architect Nicodemus Tessin. In his travel diary, he recorded visiting the Town Hall where, ‘in another room is a very large piece by Van Dyck, depicting how all the Councillors, with lifelike faces, sit in their order, all painted life-size.’ It can only be imagined how this striking painting must have looked.
Five copies of Van Dyck Apostles are first recorded in the collections of the Museum in Besançon in South-East France in 1799. Perhaps they were loot from the French First Republic’s annexation of the Low Countries in 1794. On the back of Paul we discovered, after much searching in raking light, a previously unrecorded panel maker’s punch mark – SG
Research has identified the mark as being that of Sanctus Gabron, the younger brother of the better known and well recorded panel maker, Guilliam Gabron. Sanctus Gabron is recorded as a frame maker and a son of a Master of the Guild of St. Luke in the year 1615-16 and as a panel maker and Master himself in the Guild register for the year 1617-18. Further research in the archives will determine the years that Sanctus Gabron worked. The tree that was used by Gabron to make the panel was felled between 1610 and 1620 according to our dendrochronologist. The Guild of St Luke brand mark, also on the reverse of the panel, was in use between 1618 and 1626. All this points to Paul (below) being a copy painted around the same time or soon after Van Dyck painted the originals during his first Antwerp period up to his departure for Italy in 1621.