Possibly Jan Tak, Leiden
His posthumous sale, Soeterwoude near Leiden, Delfos, 5 September 1781, lot 64 (together with a companion panel of the Battle between the Gods and Titans), 91 Dfl. to Delfos
Probably Menno Baron van Coehoorn, The Hague
His posthumous sale, Amsterdam, Van der Schley, 19 October 1801, lot 82
HRH Prince Hendrik of the Netherlands, Prince of Orange-Nassau (1820–1879), Holland (whose coat-of-arms was formerly on the frame, according to the sale catalogue of 1895 below)
Henry Doetsch (1839–1894), New Burlington Street, London
His posthumous sale, London, Christie’s, 22–25 June 1895, lot 345, 17 guineas to H. Quilter
Jean-Claude Barrié, Bois-Colombes, Paris (his collector's mark on the reverse of the panel)
Lucien-Michel Chevalier, Paris
By whom sold ('The Property of a French Private Collector') New York, Sotheby's, 30 January 1997, lot 24
Private collection, United Kingdom
Sale, Sotheby’s, London, 3 July 2019, lot 14
There acquired by the present owner, until 2023
J.P. Richter, The Doetsch Collection, (Illustrated Catalogue
of the Highly Important Collection of Pictures by Old Masters of Henry Doetsch,
Esq., deceased, late of 7 New Burlington Street, which [by Order of the Executors]
will be sold by Auction by Messrs. Christie, Manson & Woods. 8 King Street,
St James Square), London 1895, p. 97
C.M.A.A. Lindeman, Joachim Anthonisz, Wtewael,1929, pp. 56 (datable to 1607–12), 82–83, 252, no. 28, reproduced pl. 5
F. Antal, 'Zum Problem des niederländischen Manierismus', Kritische Berichte zur kunstgeschichtlichen Literatur, 1–2, 1927–29, p. 232, n. 1; translated and reprinted in F. Antal (ed.), Classicism and Romanticism, London 1966, pp. 47–106
C.M.A.A. Lindeman 'Wtewael', in Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler, U. Thieme and E. Becker (eds), vol. XXXVI, 1947, p. 286
A.W. Lowenthal, Joachim Wtewael and Dutch Mannerism, 1986, pp. 124–25, no. A-51, 132, 160, reproduced pl. 72
R. Ward and M.K. Komanecky, in Copper as Canvas, exh. cat., Phoenix, Kansas and The Hague, New York and Oxford 1999, p. 322, reproduced.
Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix, Copper as Canvas. Two centuries of Masterpiece paintings on copper 1575–1775, 12 December 1998 – 28 February 1999; Kansas City, Nelson-Atkins Museum, 28 March – 13 June 1999; The Hague, Mauritshuis, late June – 22 August 1999, no. 65.
Joachim Wtewael was the most important exponent in the Netherlands of mythological cabinet pieces painted on copper. The subject he chose for this exquisite little panel is the most dramatic moment in the famous story of Diana and Actaeon recounted by Ovid in his Metamorphoses (III, 181–304). The mortal Actaeon is out hunting in the Boethian woods when he stumbles across the goddess Diana and her nymphs bathing. In punishment for witnessing their nudity the chaste goddess (marked out by the symbol of a crescent moon in her hair) splashes him with water and transforms him into a stag. Here we see the stag’s antlers just beginning to form on Actaeon’s head, while at his feet his faithful hounds sniff the air and become alert to the change that is taking place. Actaeon stands upon a small bridge, silhouetted against the distant landscape and encircled by the naked bodies of Diana and her attendants. In a few moments the transformation will be complete and Actaeon will be torn to pieces by his own hounds. The colour and movement in this beautiful copper completely transcend its tiny dimensions, and mark its author as the supreme exponent of the last great phase of Mannerist painting in northern Europe. The intimate scale of the panel, combined with the meticulous detail and smooth finish afforded by the copper’s surface, mark it as a work intended for personal enjoyment by the spectator, who can appreciate the excitement of the extraordinary myth in tandem with the erotic elegance of its forms.
The origins of Wtewael’s Mannerist style are probably to be found in his
four-year trip to Italy and France with his first patron, Charles de Bourgneauf
de Cucé, Bishop of St Malo between 1588 and 1592, for his earliest works
suggest a familiarity with the art of Parmigianino and the Fontainbleau School.
But undoubtedly his greatest sources of
inspiration were to be found after his return to Utrecht in 1592, in the work
of the generation of northern Netherlandish painters and engravers in Haarlem
and Utrecht such as Hendrick Goltzius (1558–1617), Cornelis van Haarlem
(1562–1638) and Abraham Bloemaert (1566–1651), and above all in the art of
Bartolomeus Spranger (1546–1611), a native of Antwerp who worked for the
Emperor Rudolph II in Prague. Wtewael’s
enthusiastic response to their designs from the 1580s and the following
decade would exercise a vital and enduring influence over his own style for the
whole of his career. To their contrived spatiality and elegant
artificiality of pose, he added – especially in his small panels such
as this – a highly colourful palette and meticulous polished finish,
both of which were no doubt a legacy from his very earliest training in his
father’s glassworks in Utrecht.
Although he did work on a larger scale and in other media such as canvas, Wtewael’s most successful and sought-after works were undoubtedly small cabinet paintings of this type, especially on copper panels, whose smooth surface allowed him to show off a highly refined miniaturist technique to best advantage. His pictures on this tiny scale such as the present work were highly finished, detailed and brightly coloured, and undoubtedly meant to be physically handled, the better to appreciate their highly wrought and enamelled surfaces. Wtewael’s skill in this field earned him international renown. His contemporary biographer Karel van Mander, writing in his Het Schilder-Boeck in 1604 considered him “...very excellent and subtle in all aspects of art” and ranked him “among our best Netherlandish painters”. He further remarked that “it would be difficult to say at which he is the more outstanding: whether on a large or a small scale... One comes across many small pieces of excellent precision and neatness by him”.1 Wtewael’s predilection for copper as a support was exceptional, even in the context of his Netherlandish contemporaries. Between 1592 and 1612, more than thirty of Wtewael’s fifty-eight known work were painted on copper, more than half of which were mythological subjects, an enthusiasm matched only by his celebrated Flemish contemporary Jan Brueghel the Elder (1568–1625).2 The popularity of these coppers is suggested by the fact that he frequently painted some subjects in more than one version. His treatment of the subject of Mars and Venus, for example, was painted by him on at least four occasions, including two exceptional copper plates of 1610 (Mauritshuis, The Hague) and 1605–10 (J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles).3 Similarly he painted the Wedding of Peleus and Thetis four times, with examples now divided between the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Nancy (1606–10), the Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum in Braunschweig (1602), a private collection (c. 1606–10), and the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown (1612), the last having the joint distinction of being the largest and latest copper plate by Wtewael to have survived.
For the present panel, Wtewael returned to a design he had first explored in a larger panel painted the year before in 1607, today at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.4 This was on a larger scale (57.5 x 78 cm) but employed a broadly similar composition. In the present panel the figure of Actaeon is given greater prominence by being brought much closer to the viewer and placed upon a bridge rather than seen through a rocky arch, and further enhanced by being seen in silhouette. The basic disposition of the bodies of Diana and her nymphs is followed, but the distant landscape in the Vienna panel in which Actaeon meets his grisly fate is here discarded. As Anne Lowenthal has observed, likely sources of inspiration for Wtewael’s design probably included two engravings after Paulus Moreelse, one by Jacob Matham and the other by Jan Saenredam, both dating to 1606.5 A drawing in the Hessisches Landesmuseum in Darmstadt may be related to the Vienna panel, but its autograph status is doubted by Lowenthal.6 The contre-jour effect of viewing Actaeon’s body against the light had also been explored by Wtewael in an earlier copper depicting another episode from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the story of the Apulian shepherd, probably painted around 1604–05 and now in a private collection.7 Wtewael’s reprise of the Vienna painting on a smaller scale seems to have been a conscious attempt to produce a more refined and cabinet-sized variation on the theme, in which his sheer technical facility and virtuosity would stand out. As Arthur Wheelock has recently observed, it may be that he was also influenced by contemporary goldsmith’s work and sought to emulate the opulence of luxurious kunstkammer objects in the fashionable auricular style.8 The elegant mannerist contrapposto of the reclining nymphs and their contrasting skin tones feels reminiscent of the gilt and silver gilt surfaces of such refined objects. Wtewael returned to the subject of Diana and Actaeon for the last time a few years later in a much larger octagonal panel of 1612, today at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.9
To judge from the comments of both Karel van Mander and Joachim van Sandrart, pictures such as this were evidently in as much demand in Wtewael’s time as they are today. It is not difficult to understand the attraction of such pictures for contemporary collectors. The jewel-like colour and meticulous execution of these panels meant that they were meant to be seen close to and physically handled, and their durability ensured their enduring popularity. The combination of sensual and aesthetic delight was complemented by the intellectual enjoyment derived from the subject’s classical pedigree – Ovid’s tale was widely available to the Dutch public through translations such as that of Johannes Florianus, first published in 1552, and reprinted several times through the seventeenth century. Although it is perhaps too simplistic to seek for underlying moral messages in all such works, Wtewael’s contemporaries might very well have interpreted the story of Diana and Actaeon as an admonishment against the weakness of the flesh.
Most of Wtewael’s paintings were probably sold to local collectors in his home city of Utrecht. By contrast, relatively few pictures by him entered, for example, collections in Amsterdam. This was no doubt due to the fact that, as his fellow painter Joachim von Sandrart pointed out after visiting him, Wtewael’s profitable business interests – he was a successful flax merchant – meant that he did not need to paint for a living.10 It may also reflect the relatively conservative aristocratic taste of his patrons in Utrecht, in whose social and political circles he moved. As an artist, Wtewael remained largely unaffected by the new naturalism of Caravaggio and his followers then being introduced to the north by painters such as Hendrick ter Brugghen. His was the last great flourish of the great northern Mannerist tradition, exemplified by Goltzius and Bloemaert in the Netherlands and Spranger in Prague, all of whose designs had inspired him. Unlike them, however, he only rarely produced designs for prints which would have spread his reputation even further afield. Nor did he require the assistance of a large workshop, although he must have employed some assistants, foremost among them his eldest son Pieter (1596–1660). Wtewael’s last known painting dates from 1628, and after this it seems that he stopped painting for good. Of the hundred or so paintings by him to have come down to us, the refined and brilliant copper panels such as the present work remain his finest achievements, and indeed must be counted among the greatest of all Mannerist paintings in the north.
Joachim Anthonisz. Wtewael was born in Utrecht in 1566, the second son of the glass painter Anthonis Jansz. Wtewael and Antonia van Schayck. Joachim initially learned his father’s craft, but later decided to become a painter. From around 1584, he spent two years with the Utrecht artist Joos de Beer, who at one time had briefly taught Abraham Bloemaert. In about 1586, he travelled to Italy, where he found employment in Padua with the French cleric Charles de Bourgneuf de Cucé, bishop of St. Malo. According to Karel van Mander, he was part of the bishop’s retinue for two years in Italy and a further two in France. Wtewael probably returned to Utrecht shortly before 1592. He joined the Saddlers’ Guild (this was the organisation to which painters belonged until 1611 when they set up their own corporation) around that time, set up a studio and began to take on apprentices. On 13 April 1595, Wtewael married Christina Petersdr. Van Halen, daughter of a shoemaker. The following year he bought a large house on the east side of the Oudegracht, near to the Weerd Gate. The couple’s first son Peter Wtewael, who became a painter, was born the same year. A son Jan (or Johan) was born in 1598 and daughters Antonietta and Eva were born in 1603 and 1607 respectively.
In addition to being a painter, Wtewael was a shrewd businessman. Van Mander bemoaned the fact that he spent more time dealing flax than working at his easel. When the East India Company (VOC) was formed in 1602, Wtewael and his brother each bought shares worth nine hundred guilders, which yielded high profits from 1610 onwards. In the course of his life, Wtewael’s known investments in mortgages came to almost twenty-five thousand guilders and he owned several houses and plots of land. Like Paulus Moreelse, Wtewael was involved with the formation of the Utrecht painters’ guild in 1611 and also concerned himself with local politics. A Calvinist sympathizer and supporter of Prince Maurits of Orange Nassau, he was elected to the Utrecht town council several times. He was also active in the Reformed Church and in charitable organizations. Joachim Wtewael died on 1 August 1638 and was buried in the Buurkerk.
1 K. Van Mander, Het Schilder-boeck: The Lives of the Illustrious Netherlandish and German Painters,1603–04, H. Midema (ed.), Doornspijk 1994, vol. I (text), fol. 296v–297r, pp. 445–46.
2 See A.W. Lowenthal in the catalogue of the exhibition, Masters of Light, Dutch Painters in Utrecht during the Golden Age, New Haven and London 1997, especially p. 277.
3 Lowenthal 1986, pp. 97 and 117, nos A-18 and A-44.
4 Inv. 1052. Panel 58 x 79 cm. Lowenthal 1986, p. 121, no. A-46, reproduced pl. 64. The painting may have been sold directly to the Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria, in whose inventory of 1659 it appears.
5 Lowenthal 1986, under no. A-46, reproduced figs 37 and 38.
6 Inv. no. AE 371. Lowenthal 1986, p. 121, reproduced pl. 65.
7 Exhibited Washington, National Gallery of Art, Utrecht, Centraal Museum and Houston, Museum of Fine Arts, Pleasure and Piety. The Art of Joachim Wtewael,2015, no. 14.
8 See A. Wheelock, ‘Wtewael’s historical reputation’, in Pleasure and Piety. The Art of Joachim Wtewael, exh. cat., Washington, Utrecht and Houston, 2015, pp. 42–43.
9 Inv. No 57.119. Lowenthal 1986, p. 131, no. A-60, reproduced plate 86. The author also lists pictures at Upton House (Bearsted Collection), Warwickshire, and Musée de la Chartreuse in Douai, the former of doubtful authenticity and the latter possibly a copy after a lost original.
10 J. Von Sandrart, Academie der Bau-, Bild-, und Mahlerey-Künste, Nuremberg 1675, part ii, book 3, p. 289. See also Wheelock 2015, pp. 38–47. Many of Wtewael’s pictures clearly remained in his possession, for his family inherited over thirty paintings at his death. Whether this is because he had failed to sell them or for other more personal reasons is not known.