Tuesday, 14 February 2017

"Battle Scene" is Battle of Leckerbeetje; by Balthasar Courtois?

DVC, from Ghent, sells on 18 February 2017 an "Attributed to Sebastian Vrancx" Battle scene, estimated at 2,500 to 5,000 Euro.

Vrancx, Groeningemuseum, Bruges

It is a variation on a typical Vrancx work, the "Battle between Bréauté and Leckerbeetje, 5 February 1600", which for some reason was very popular and is known through many copies (both by Vrancx and his Studio, and later followers), as can also be seen in the inventories of Antwerp art legacies in the seventeenth century or similar sources.

The story isn't even about a real "battle" in the sense of a massive confrontation in war (although it was part of the 80 Years War, probably the second longest such named War in history), but it was a duel between 22 local, Catholic knights fighting for the Spanish, led by Leckerbeetje, and 22 Dutch and French knights, led by the Norman de Breauté for the French. Leckerbeetje died early in the confrontation, but his knights won and captured De Breauté and a few others. At the surrender, Bréauté was promised that he wouldn't be harmed (which was standard practice, much more interesting to demand a ransom than to kill prisoners, plus next time it might be your turn to get captured and you wouldn't want to be killed then either). However, the citizens lynched then anyway... The city, Den Bosch, was then still a Spanish-ruled, Catholic city, while the majority of what is now the Netherlands was Protestant and independent.

Vrancx, sold through Philip Mould

Why this moment captured the imagination isn't known, neither the actual story nor the original painting are really exceptional, but somehow it got copied and copied over and over again.

According to Jean Moust, who has a larger version of the work for sale for 11,800 Euro, Sebastian Vrancx was indeed the first to paint this, and other versions are by Pieter Snayers, Cornelis Droochsloot, Gerrit van Santen, and many anonymous artists.

Remarkable in the work for sale are the very prominent red sashes on many fighters. Perhaps this is partly due to the condition of the work, but as Moust describes, the sashes were the military uniform of the day, indicating to which party you belonged. That the work for sale shows the Red (Spanish) central figure already as victorious over Leckerbeetje, and not the more common fight between Breauté and Leckerbeetje, may indicate that this one was intended for a Catholic client, who would like to see this element stressed.

Apart from that element does the work for sale follow the composition of all these works quite rigidly. Most typical are some background elements; the gallows to the left, the tower in the middle, the mill to the right, with the city behind it; and the two watchers on the hillock on the right. The remainder is harder to see, the work needs cleaning and DVC doesn't offer high resolution images online.

The version which seems to copy this version the closest, at least with regards to the composition, is one at RKD attributed to Balthasar Courtois, a pupil of Vrancx. The colours are very weird, and the condition very poor, so a real comparison is hard, but the figures in the front, especially the fallen Leckerbeetje and some other elements like the group directly to the right of Bréauté, clearly relate this one to the one at auction now. Perhaps this indicates that the one for sale might also be by Balthasar Courtois, but it's hard to be certain with these.

It would surprise me if this work fetches the higher estimate, but the starting position of 2,500 Euro seems feasible on a good day.

UPDATE: unsold, again for sale with a 2,500 to 4,000 Euro estimate at DVC on 1 April 2017.

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