Wednesday, 22 March 2017

"Elegantly-dressed figures conversing..." at Sotheby's is another "Flemish Charity"

Sotheby's sells on 28 March 2017 a "Flemish School, early 17th century" "Elegantly-dressed figures conversing in front of a building in a landscape", estimated at £3,000 to £5,000.

While they give the transcript of the"moral verse" beneath the painting, any further explanation is missing. Luckily I have discussed this type of painting already twice, in May 2016 and in January 2017.

It is a "Flemish Charity" or "Poor parents, rich children", and as evidenced by the multiple auctions recently this was a fairly common theme for a while in Flemish and Dutch painting, and one of the most common paintings with long textual explanations, existing in multiple compositions with slightly varying text.

This very composition though can be found identical (even the dimensions), though in a worse condition, in the British Royal Collection. The Royal Collection seems slightly better painted, though both are rather primitive, naive works. They are probably by the same artist. The entry there also explains that it is based on an engraving by Bartholomeus Dolendo.

And with that information, I was able to find that engraving in the collections of the Rijksmuseum. It dates to 1590. That version has a text in three languages (French, German and Dutch) and with 4 verses, not the three we get here (the third one is missing here).

The transcription given by Sotheby's has a few small errors, which I'll correct here.

Top text:
Kint nemt waer uus / vaders outheyt / Ende en bedrouft / Hem niet in / Zynen leven / ecclesias[...].
[Ecclesiasticus III] This is a Bible chapter dealing with parents and children, with lines like "Whoever respects a father will in turn be happy with children, the day he prays for help, he will be heard." The text here means
Child see your / fathers old age / and don't disappoint / him in / his life

Bottom text:
 Och lieve kinders g'heeft ons het [should read "Iet" instead of "Het", to rhyme with "overschyet"]/ voor t hulijcx gooet dat wii u gaeven / van tgeen dat u nu overschyet / om ons bedrouft heert te laeven.
Oh sweet children give us something / for the marriage goods we gave you / from whatever still remains to you / to sooth our saddeneddd heart

Lieve ouders wij en mogen t niet doen / tis alte dier t sij cost ende cleeren / die kinders costen ons veel te voen / Wij en moghen voor u lien [should be "sien"] niet ontberen.
Dear parents we may not do it / it's too expensive either food or clothes / the children cost us too much / we may not deprive them for you

Wie dese leere willen opserveren niet / maer domineren gelijck men hier sal ["Siet", better rhyme and meaning]/ d ouders oneren ende laten int verdriet / Slae ick doot dat een ander ansiet.
Who doesn't want to follow this lesson / but dominate as one can see here . shame the parents and let them in sorrow /  I'll smite dead as an example to others

The work for sale is mainly interesting for the iconography, and because it is also nice to see multiple versions of the same painting, which helps to interpret and place them. Artistically, it is a mediocre work and quite badly cracked, although otherwise it is in good condition. It may get the estimated value, as the painting is a nice talking point for whoever gets to display it; but it won't be a sleeper work as the subject isn't that rare and the artist not very interesting.

UPDATE: sold for £5,250, just above the high estimate. Some real sleepers in that auction though, I'll post on a minor sleeper from it tonight.

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