Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Flemish Vanity, ca. 1570

Hôtel des Ventes d'Avignon, in France, sells on 10 March 2018 a "Flemish Vanity, ca. 1570" estimated at 3,000 to 4,000 Euro.

Another version of the same composition, this time said to be ca. 1540, can be found at the RKD. Currently described as "anonymous Dutch", it has in the past been attributed to Jan van Scorel and (in 2001) to Cornelis van der Goude. The RKD version is slightly smaller but clearly better painted, in the geometric body style typical of Scorel and his circle. The one for sale is smoother, showing some sfumato (the "smoke"-like, more fluid contours and shadows on bodies best known from Leonardo).

There is a fine chance that both are based on some Italian engraving, but I haven't found that one so far. The RKD one seems clearly older, but the one for sale is interesting as well, as a still early Flemish Renaissance painting of considerable skill.

Somewhat different versions of the same basic elements can be found aplenty though, e.g. this 1525 engraving by Barthel Beham, which seems very close in some aspects (the position of the legs, the hand pointing on the skull). The meaning of these images varies, sometimes it is a "we are born to die" happy thought, sometimes it is an "amor defeats death", but those tend to show a happier child, not a contemplative or sleeping one.

The above, by Raphaël Sadeler after Marten de Vos, is from 1570 and may have inspired the date given for the work at auction. It is another "tempus fugit" (time fies), life is but a short and fragile episode cautionary tale.

I haven't yet found a likely painter for the work for sale, but it should easily be worth the estimate, even if the child isn't the most attractive-looking (a common issue with many old paintings).

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