The Last Supper
Cornelis Cornelisz. van Haarlem
Signed with monogram and dated 1636, lower centre
On panel, 14 x 17 ins (37.4 x 44.2 cm)
Private collection, United Kingdom since the early twentieth century
The Last Supper (i) which Christ took with the disciples in Jerusalem before his arrest has been a popular theme in Christian art from the time of Leonardo. Cornelis van Haarlem sets the scene in a darkened room, lit only by candlelight. Christ is seated, with outstretched arms, at the centre of a long table, surrounded by the twelve apostles. The artist depicts the moment following Christ's prediction that one among the assembled company will betray him. The drama focuses upon the reactions of the disciples, as they turn to one another, with gestures of surprise and disbelief. John can be identified as the apostle sitting in front of Christ who, as the gospel relates, 'leaned back close to Jesus and asked, 'Lord, who is it' (ii) and Andrew, an old man with a forked beard, can be seen at the right-hand end of the table. Only Judas, recognisable by the purse of money he holds in his right hand (iii), turns away from the table and casts a shifty glance towards the viewer. The bread rolls on the table and the wine flagon held by the apostle on the right make reference to the sacrament of the eucharist.
This previously unrecorded painting, dating from 1636, is a late work by Cornelis van Haarlem and is characteristic of the moderate classicism which informed his work from around 1600 onwards. It represents a stark contrast to the exuberant Mannerism of his youthful oeuvre, exemplified by early his masterpiece, The Massacre of the Innocents, now in the Frans Halsmuseum, Haarlemiv. In the 1580s, Cornelis, together with the poet, painter and art theorist, Karel van Mander, and the painter and engraver, Hendrick Goltzius, was one of the principal exponents of Mannerism which saw a brief but intense flowering in Haarlem. By the mid 1590s, however, Cornelis's work was already becoming more temperate, in response to Goltzius's own rejection of Mannerism. The violent contortions and exaggeratedly muscular nudes which typified his Mannerist period, gave way in favour of more restful poses and figure types, more akin to classical norms of proportion and harmony.
With this nocturnal scene, Cornelis returned to a genre which he had practiced early in his career. In the 1590s, probably inspired by his teacher, Gillis Coignet, he painted several night scenes and even gained a reputation as a specialist in this field (v). It seems that Cornelis was also indebted to his master for the design of the present picture, which displays affinities with a print of The Last Supper by Candlelight, of 1594, engraved by Jan Muller after Coignet. Another more immediate pictorial example may well have been the Caravaggesque depiction of The Last Supper, painted in 1628 by Peter Wtewael, now in the Universitetets Konstmuseum, Uppsala (vi). Our painting bears a close resemblance to Wtewael's composition, with figures seated around a table, placed at an oblique angle to the picture plane, and illuminated only by the glow from the candles and Christ's halo. Similar too, is the rich palette of warm, saturated hues. The dramatic effects of artificial lighting represented in the paintings of Gerrit van Honthorst, who returned from Rome to Utrecht in 1620, made a strong impression on his Dutch contemporaries and no doubt stimulated this renewed interest in nocturnal scenes.
Some of the figures in the present work also recur in other works by Cornelis van Haarlem, for instance, the head of Andrew, at the far right of our picture, shows similarities to a figure in his painting, Suffer the Little Children to Come unto Me (vii), of 1633, while the head of Judas can be compared with that of the man behind the table in A Smoker and a Man with a Beer Jug (viii), also dating from 1636. This recycling of motifs is not uncommon in Cornelis's oeuvre and is an indication of his working method. A gifted draftsman, Cornelis built up a repertoire of drawings taken from life and from plaster casts or pieces of sculpture, which he later used when composing large figurative compositions. Time and again he appears to have assembled his figures with the aid of preparatory drawings of individual limbs or entire figures. After his death, Cornelis's collection of drawings, few of which survive today, was inherited by his natural daughter, Maria, and passed eventually to her son, the painter Cornelis Bega.
Another version of this composition is recorded in Pieter J. J. van Thiel's catalogue raisonné of the artist's oeuvre. Known only from a poor quality black and white reproduction, the other version, which is not signed or dated, shows minor differences and appears to be of inferior quality. Based on good quality photographs, Dr. van Thiel is of the opinion that the present picture is undoubtedly the prime version (ix).
Cornelis Cornelisz., known as Cornelis van Haarlem, was born the son of
well-to-do parents in 1562 in Haarlem. According to Karel van Mander,
he first studied with Pieter Pietersz. in Haarlem and, at the age of
seventeen, travelled to Rouen and then to Antwerp, where be became a
pupil of Gillis Coignet for a year. In 1580-81, he settled in Haarlem
and in 1583 received his first official commission from the city for a
militia company portrait of the Haarlem Civic Guard (Frans Halmuseum,
Haarlem). Around this time he became friends with Karel van Mander and
Hendrick Goltzius and together they established the so-called Haarlem
Academy, which encouraged its members to “study from life”. Between
1590 and 1593 he carried out an important municipal commission for four
large pictures to decorate the Prinsenhof in Haarlem. Subsequently he
received numerous major commissions: for the Civic Guard (1599), the
Commanders of the Order of St. John (1617 and 1624), the Court of the
Stadholder in The Hague (1622) and the hospital of the Heilige Geesthuis
(1633). Some time before 1603, Cornelis married Maritgen Arentsdr.
Deyman, the daughter of a burgomaster. In 1605 he inherited one third
of his wealthy father-in-law’s estate and, the following year, his wife
died, childless. He also had an illegitimate daughter, Maria, who later
married Pieter Jansz. Bagijn, a silversmith, and their son, Cornelis
Bega, became a painter. From 1613 to 1619 Cornelis served as a regent
of the Old Men’s Home in Haarlem. From 1626 until 1629 he was a member
of the Catholic St. Jacob’s Guild and, in 1630, along with other artists
he was involved in the formulation of new regulations for the St.
Luke’s Guild in Haarlem. He died on 11 November 1638.
i Matthew, 26:17-29; Mark, 14:12-25; Luke, 22:7-23 and John, 13: 21-30.
ii John, 13:25.
iii Either as an allusion to the thirty pieces of silver, the price of the betrayal, or more simply because,
according to John, 'Judas was in charge of the common purse'.
iv Cornelis van Haarlem, Massace of the Innocents, signed and dated 1591, canvas, 270 x 255 cm,
Mauritshuis on loan to the Frans Halsmuseum, Haarlem.
v In the chapter, 'On the Reflection, Reverberance, Lustre or Sheen' of his Den Grondt der Edel vry
Schilder-Const', 1604, (vii, 42-44), Karel van Mander, after referring to the Italian nocturnal scenes
by Raphael and Bassano, first names Gillis Coignet and then Cornelis as the Dutch specialists in this
vi Peter Wtewael, The Last Supper, 1628, 40.5 x 68.5 cm, Universitetets Konstmuseum, Uppsala.
vii Cornelis van Haarlem, Suffer the Little Children to come unto me, 1633, canvas, 127 x 206.5 cm,
Haarlem, Frans Halsmuseum, Inv. No. 56.
viii Cornelis van Haarlem, A Smoker and a Man with a Beer Jug, signed and dated 1636, panel, 32 x 26 cm. Present whereabouts unknown. See Pieter J. J. van Thiel, Cornelis Cornelisz. van Haarlem 1562-1638: A Monograph and Catalogue Raisonn, Cat. No. 237.
ix This opinion was given in a telephone conversation on 6th December, 2006.
Cornelis Cornelisz. van Haarlem
1562 - Haarlem - 1638
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