Thursday, 9 February 2017

"Unsigned, 17th century" is good copy after Rubens

Carlo Bonte, Belgium, sells on 21 March 2017 an "Unsigned, 17th century" Veronica drying the face of Christ, estimated at 500 to 800 Euro.

This clearly Flemish High Baroque painting has a great composition and some very good elements, but other parts are a bit unfinished, so it seemed probable that it was a copy of a better work. Still, it looks to be done by a fairly accomplished artist.

Some searching lead me to Rubens (who else), but as it is not one of his best known works (and at the price an interesting copy), I list it here anyway.

The Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Brussels has a later version of this composition (bottom image), which clearly reuses a number of elements.The sketch from the Rijksmuseum (top) shows how the composition changed a few times, but how things like the man pushing the cross, and the positions of Jesus and Mary, stay virtually the same.

The composition from the painting for sale can be seen in this sketch from the Berkeley Art Museum. I couldn't immediately find an actual, finished painting though;perhaps an engraving was made after this preliminary idea (from ca. 1632), and then the composition got changed a few times before the final painting from Brussels was made (circa 1635).

Another, supposedly very early version (ca. 1612-1615), is kept in the Museum of Warsaw, but it doesn't seem to be good enough to be by Rubens at first glance, and the colours seem different from what one expects from a Rubens as well. Perhaps it's a condition issue.

The work for sale is clearly a copy after the 1632 Paulus Pontius engraving of the work, and not a straight copy after the painting. This means that the painter has added his own colours here, which are very well chosen, and again show the quality of the copy and the talent of the copyist.

Some details also reveal a painter who clearly knew what he was doing and captured light and tone just right. Some elements, especially the folds on the big man on the left, are less convincing and distract a bit (they are too much a copy of the style of the engraving, and not painted in their own right), but overall this is a very nice work, one of the better copies after an engraving one can find, and one of the less common Rubenses to find a copy off. The price is fairly low and it would surprise me if this went for less than 1,000 Euro, and might reach 2,000 on a good day.

As a bonus, I tried my hand at something I rarely do, analyzing composition. This was prompted by noticing he only real difference between the work for sale and the engraving, in the trees at the top. With this change the copyist loses the "S"-line which goes from the middle of the top to the left, middle, bottom right, and again to bottom middle via the children.

This seems to be one of the three main lines of the composition, the others being a curve from bottom left to top left, and a double diagonal from bottom right to top left. I'm not good at drawing, so take this for what's it worth.Perhaps a fourth (double) line is needed, going from the main line of the cross to the head of Mary, and from the feet of the man pushing the cross over the road and the line of shadows to the hands of Mary, to counterbalance the double diagonal. All in all, and what I wanted to show, is that the original is a finely balanced work with the typical multiple viewing lines of a great Baroque work, and that the alteration done in this copy somewhat shifts the balance and loses one line of view (through probably the least important and obvious).

UPDATE: sold for 20,000 Euro instead! I really am way too conservative  with these...

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