Our selection of Old Masters focuses on the North European schools:
Early Flemish and German Renaissance painting.
We focus particular attention on the Brueghel Dynasty, a school representing in reputation, value and importance, the absolute excellence of Flemish art.
Finally, we also offer a selection of works from the Dutch Golden Age.
Herri met de Bles II
(Also known as the Master of Copenhagen Flight into Egypt)The Earthly Paradise
Oil on panel
Expertise Luc Serck.Deep in a primeval forest, a man and a woman argue. Around them, a large group of animals is at the feet of a tall fountain. In the background, the landscape stretches as far as the eye is able to see, revealing gigantic glacial-colored mountains. It is the Heaven on Earth. The central scene is the Fall of Man. If we had to make a selection of the themes that have occupied a privileged position in the world of Flemish painting, the "Earthly Paradise" would occupy a privileged place: from the Flemish Primitives to the Brueghels, and among them, Hieronymus Bosch. Exactly from him is it necessary to start to exploration of a painting as unique as it is enigmatic, just like our small tablet.
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Jan Brueghel II and Frans WoutersAllegory of fire
Oil on panel
Expertise K. ErtzFamous member of the so-called “Brueghel Dynasty”, Jan Brueghel II is considered one of the most eminent and representative Flemish artists of the full 17th Century. His prosperous artistic career can be summed up through the reiteration of his father's stylistic elements, disseminated with excellence and diligence that could attribute him the merit of having made the "Brueghel style" famous all over the world, in turn associated with Flemish art for excellence. If many of the compositions and iconographic solutions used by Jan II owe paternal inventions, starting from the second half of the Century the painter's style and inventiveness became more aware and autonomous, allowing him to best express his potential. Our work belonging to the allegorical genre is a perfect example of this awareness. The large format and perfectly preserved painting depicts the War in an allegorical key, through its declination in a technical / practical sense and by means of a series of symbolic figures.
Antoine MirouWooded Landscape after a Downpour
Oil on Panel
Expertise Luuk PijlFlemish painter, member of the so-called "Frankenthal school”, a small town in western Germany which harboured many Belgians who, after the conflicts between Catholics and Protestants, did not intend to convert back to Catholicism, following the Spanish conquest of Belgium. Sources indicate that he was there between 1563 and 1621. His landscapes are attributable to the period spanning from 1602 to 1661, if the dating of the Landscape by the National Gallery of Parma is considered accurate. The composition and colours of paintings such as the Temptation of Christ (1607, Alte Pinakothek of Munich) or the Landscape with Hunter (1640, Kunsthalle of Mannheim) attest to the influence of Gillis van Coninxloo, a pivotal point of reference for landscapers of the pre-baroque style, on his work. Likewise, the influence of Velvet Brueghel can be seen in the efforts to imitate his meticulous style, refined, mutating use of colour, and the attention placed on the atmospheric effects of the light in contact with natural surfaces. Currently available data suggests that the artist has dealt with but a few themes in his work: wooded landscapes characterised by dense trees that fill the entire canvas, as well as scenes of lively village streets nestled in a rocky landscape. Our composition, with a sophisticated flavour, is rich in luminous and atmospheric accents. Great attention is placed on the rendering of the light in the clouds, which seems to suggest that a downpour has recently ended and foreshadows the sun's imminent reappearance. A slight hint of a rainbow can be noticed in the centre when viewed in backlight. The rainbow is more of a mere material spectre than a clearly distinguishable shape. The architectural composition in the centre is absolutely in "Frankenthal" taste, an imaginary cluster of houses, towers, bridges and crops, all in the middle of a lake. The clear dichotomy between human activity and the marvel of Nature is fully conveyed in the small hunting scenes that make the forest come alive. The forest is perceived as open, as if a backdrop on a theatre stage. It is worth noticing the refined touch of the grey atmosphere, aimed at suggesting the intense, cold humidity still lingering in the air and in the ground, full of water. Beyond the main scene, a woman doing laundry and a cart pulled by white horses can also be seen. Such a conception of space and landscape is the result of mental theoretical speculation which is also present in someone apparently so fond of the realistic dimension, explored through imagination, creativity and the reconstruction of elements in an ideal and dreamlike whole: the Flemish landscape by definition.
Sebastian VrancxOn the Way to Peace
Oil on panel
Expertise Luuk PijlSebastian Vrancx was a famous Flemish painter active in the first half of the 16th century, renowned expert in the landscape genre, but also dabbled in the subjects of everyday life and battles. He was a member of the Guild of Saint Luke from 1611. The painting of this Antwerp-born master is distinctive for his personal style, which carefully absorbs different influences, mixed with eclectic taste in a severe, but at the same time elegant art, far from the rhetoric of Baroque taste and recognisable for a typical dryness of the stroke, suitable to create unusual and eclectic compositions. The small snowy landscape is a remarkable proof of technical virtuosity. The style of the painting is comparable to the series of Allegories of the Seasons reproduced several times by the painter, who used to repeat many of his compositions. Another useful comparison is with the Extensive Landscape in circular format, in which the use of different chromatic shades and material thicknesses of monochrome colour is typical and irrefutable to define the soil's rocky layers and the mineral veins of the landscape. Within the scenery with a wide horizon, along a winding road engraved with markedly graphic brushstrokes, a group of wayfarers armed with spears leads a herd of cattle towards the city that can be seen in the background. At the crossroads, three different structures can be seen: a mill, a votive temple devoted to the Virgin Mary and - left seals - a hill intended for different forms of capital punishment, gallows and wheel. In the outline, some magpies are sitting on two large gnarled and dry trees, while in the distance an entire flock hovering above the scene can be seen. At the bottom, where the sunlight lights up the landscape with accents of intense green, a glimpse of a rainbow can be caught. The piece, which is among those closest in style and content to Pieter Brueghel II, sparks a desire to investigate Vrancx’ interest for historical and allegorical subjects. The period of activity of the painter coincides indeed with that of the Wars of Religion (particularly, with that of the Thirty Years and the Spanish massacres in Belgium) and there are numerous examples of paintings dedicated to battles, raids by bandits and attacks on caravans, in which the themes connected to the violence of war strongly emerge. The scene depicted here, however, does not focus on a war scene or on the onslaught of brigands, but on the contrary portrays a group of men going towards the light and the city’s rainbow. At last, the war is over, making way for peace. The spears in their hands will no longer be used to attack, but to guide the cattle. At the intersection of the roads- which are those of Destiny - the Pilgrim meets Faith (represented by the wayside shrine), he leaves the War behind (the hill of torture) and sees the Mill at the gates of the city (the industrious work of Man). The Wanderer in the foreground invites us into the scene by turning towards the observer, suggesting him to approach the landscape with rapt attention. The fact that multiple levels of interpretation are left open is not surprising, as it is a traditional feature of Flemish art, which, as shown, Vrancx appreciated. Our composition, however, has not been found in other signed replicas and therefore constitutes a unique specimen in the author's catalogue. With this work Vrancx is able to combine the genre of the landscape with that of the historical and allegorical subjects in a single painting.
Abraham Govaerts and Pieter van AvontHoly Family with Angels into a Landscape
Oil on Copper
Expertise Klaus ErtzMagnificent example of collaboration, following the widespread practice in Antwerp in the seventeenth century, between Abraham Govaerts as a landscape specialist and van Avont as a "staffage" painter, i.e. the painting of the characters. By this way the evangelical episode of the rest from the escape into Egypt becomes the expedient to stage a nature with bright colors, with rich turquoise and aqua green accents, enhanced by a vast range of naturalistic details: from the rose garden to the right, to the fruits on top. The very thin copper leaf on which the work - in perfect condition - was painted is of considerable size and it is likely that it was destined for the Spanish and Mexican market, according to a widespread commercial practice in vogue from the years '40 of the '600. Thanks to this practice the Flemish painting on copper of "brueghellian-style" had a diffusion and an unusual worldwide success. It is the undoubted ability of the "Brueghel style" to conquer the eye with such incredible ease, dissolving the most typical stylistic matter effortlessly and with infallible method, chiseling the details as in a goldsmith's work and always choosing a vibrant chromatic accord, with the objective to stimulate the gaze. The fat children who surround the Holy Family, then, add a further tone of delicacy to the scene, through an anecdotal and joyful attitude, full of "joie-de-vivre".
Jan van Kessel the YoungerStill life with squirrel, parrot and porcelain bowls
Oil on canvas
We are grateful to Klaus Ertz to have confirmed the attributionJan van Kessel II counted his uncle Jan Brueghel the Younger among his teachers. He joined the Antwerp painters' guild in 1645 and specialized in small-scale pictures of subjects gleaned from the natural world such as floral still lifes and allegorical series showing animal kingdoms, the four elements, the senses, or the parts of the world. Obsessed with picturesque detail, van Kessel worked from nature and used illustrated scientific texts as sources for filling his pictures with objects represented with almost scientific accuracy. Scholars trace many of van Kessel's subjects back to a prototype by some eminent predecessor. Joris Hoefnagel's works inspired van Kessel's sensitive and delicate drawings of insects and flowers, executed mainly in watercolor on parchment. Van Kessel showed a preference for beetles, caterpillars, and butterflies and occasionally arranged caterpillars to spell out his name. The works of his grandfather Jan Brueghel the Elder, Roelandt Savery, and Frans Synders influenced his paintings of animals. His paintings frequently exhibited a fascination with the bizarre, the exotic, and even the grotesque, as in his Cannibalistic Indians. In his later years, he had to mortgage his possessions to pay off his debts. This work is a masterful example of Jan II's art in its moment of maximum closeness to his father's art, leading it towards a wider spatial vision and a style more identifiable with mature Baroque. While the meticulous floral still life on the left, with its delicate transparencies of glass and detailed veins of flowers, clearly evokes the father's teachings, the lush open pumpkin, the watermelon and the fruit plate are on the contrary more distinctive of the author. The precious "China blue" porcelain cup filled with small wild strawberries in the foreground, as well as the larger container, overflowing with peaches, plums and grape leaves, is of great charm. At the time importing Chinese Ming porcelain was an exclusive prerogative of the wealthiest social classes, as well as a source of pride for the main European courts. The scene - which would be better referred to as a nature in pose, rather than a still life - comes alive thanks to the presence of two restless squirrels sniffing and nibbling the tasty delicacies on the table. Perched on top of the fruit tray, a parrot seems to be screaming at the two squirrels, emphasising the wild vs. domesticated contrast which juxtaposes the two species, creating conceptual allusions in a typical Baroque style. Lastly, against the brown background it is possible to notice a swooping goldfinch, which is about to capture a small butterfly resting on the plum branch. With refined touches, masterful techniques and shrewd observation skills, Jan van Kessel provides us with an elegant sample of the genre of painting for which his family of artists became famous.
Ambrosius Francken IICrucifixion
Oil on panel
Expertise Jan de MaereAmbrosius Francken II, also called the younger, to distinguish him from his uncle of the same name, was born at Antwerp in the latter part of the 16th century. He studied under his father, Frans Francken the elder, whose style he imitated. In 1624 he was registered as a master in the Guild of St. Luke at Antwerp, and he is said to have painted some time in Leuven. He died in 1632. Little else is known of him.
Marcellus CoffermansMadonna with Child
Oil on Panel
Expertise Marie GrappasonniAccording to Dr. Grappasonni, the composition derives from a prototype which is itself widely spread in numerous variations and replicas. The work, which draws its charm from its "postcard" size as well as from its exceptional state of conservation, is comparable to some of Coffermans' best works. The composition of the Holy Family with Angels - the only signed piece and therefore instrumental to reconstruct the pictorial corpus - clearly shows that the same physiognomic model for the Virgin Mary and Child was used. In addition, it is the unique handling of the material surfaces that proves the painter's technical ability, constantly striving to spread the style of the Flemish Primitives. The ability to render the nuanced interplay of light and shadow on the skin of the faces, the pasty Marcellus Coffermans colour ranges, the characters’ quiet composure of the sentimental moves, unite the Crucifixion preserved at the Museo Nacional de San Carlos with our Madonna: her face intimately connected to that of the Child, the tawny hair that can be noticed under the transparent veil, the crimson mantle from which a velvet dress rendered through chromatic mutations emerges, the typically tapered hands and the completely dark background, in which the characters stand out as a single metaphysical entity, are means to express the modern devotion, a particular form of Christian worship that was widespread in the Flanders in the 1500s and which called for an intense religious communion with Christ and the Virgin Mary, also by means of a fervent devotion to sacred images. This practice has very ancient roots in Nordic countries and originates from the late medieval sacred representations. To achieve their purpose the perfect realism was precisely that of Flemish art of the 1400s and 1500s, in which realistic details were accentuated and used as symbols, following the footsteps of Rogier van der Weyden and Jan van Eyck. A piece whose powerful symbolism is capable of imposing itself on the viewer with the strength of a transcendent vision, a real conquest of the Flemish art of the beginnings, which was able to combine reality and symbol like no other.
Monogrammist HSThe Ill Matched Lovers with a Monk
oil on panel, cm 28x42,5.
We are grateful to Cranach Research Insitute and Dr. Peter Schmelzle to have confirmed the attribution of this work.Monogrammist HS (Active during the first part of XVII Century). Rare and enigmatic painter from Basel, a pupil of Lucas Cranach, specialized in the representation of allegorical subjects often soaked in a taste for the grotesque, erotic and enigmatic. Compared to his master, Hans Stronmayer presents harsher tones, with female bodies represented in ivory color and smooth as porcelain, with the characters depicted close to their caricature, deliberately in an anti-classical and anti-Italian key.
Kerstiaen de KeuninckMountain Landscape with a river
oil on panel
1620 ca.This large panoramic landscape view, dominated by fantastic mountains and rock formations, is a work of the middle period of the artist and was probably painted in Antwerp. A more precise comparison can be made with the works created around the period 1610 - 1615 in Antwerp, when the artist was in close contact with Alexander Keirincx and the Francken family. The landscapes of this period were all large works of horizontal format and followed a very precise compositional scheme. A diagonal divides the work in two parts, tracing a clear division between the action in the foreground and the immense rock formations on the background. On the opposite side, the artist often placed a theatrical backdrop formed by trees, whose fronds follow an accentuated winding line. In the central area an isolated rocky pillar is often connected by natural bridges or arches with the rest of the composition. The figures, small and secondary in the whole scene, are usually sketched at a later time, when not entirely delegated to specific collaborators. The figures of Tobias and the Angel were the artist's favourites. Hunters, pilgrims and shepherds with goats were also appreciated. It illustrates his concern with contrasting pictorial effects—such as heavy passages of opaque paint set off against areas sketched in a very thin medium—and with bold motifs like the water spray formed by flicking the brush. We mention, as primary comparision examples, the Landscape with Hunter preserved in Braunschweig, which has almost an identical setting and The Rocky Landscape preserved in Vienna where several elements return in a mirror-like manner: the castle (the only difference is the castle location: on the opposite side), the creek, the shape of the woods and the foliage of the trees, as well as the goats that can be seen in the foreground.
Jan Brueghel II and Pieter van AvontVirgin with Child into a Landscape
Oil on copper
With antique frame
Expertise K. ErtzDelicious, minute work by Jan Brueghel the Younger in collaboration with P. van Avont for the figurative part, with a coeval frame and in perfect condition. This type of painting was intended for private devotion and / or ornamental use for the "cabinet des interieurs", where they were arranged to cover entire walls, along with other works. This kind of use can be clearly seen on the paintings depicting these galleries and often made by Frans Francken and Adriaen van Stalbempt, with an advertising function in order to show the works available on the Antwerp market. Stylistically, the work presents the pictorial tendencies of Jan II on his way to a greater detachment from his father's dictates, with the use of a darker chromatic range and the landscape conception as a visual glimpse attributing airiness and depth to the main scene. The meticulous rose garden on the right, the flowers and fruits at the feet of the Virgin represent an unmistakable stylistic code of the author. As always, Brueghel reveals his ability to maintain an excellent quality even in apparently secondary details, that marks the real difference between the Master and his followers.
Gillis MostaertLandscape with the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah
olio su tavola
Expertise Luuk PijlRenowned painter, he specialised in landscapes and deserved an honourable mention in The Lives by Giorgio Vasari due to his already considerable fame at the time. Mostaert was one of the most intelligent interpreters of Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s lesson, from whom he was able to deviate thanks to his inventiveness and through the creation of a distinctive style. The naïve mood can be regarded as a "work of subtraction", aimed at removing every formal and unnecessary element and at reducing the graphic sign, in order to leave room for large fields of bright and contrasting colours. The fantastic views that fill his paintings bursts with small figures, often made by other painters specialised in the staffage. Our composition is also known in another variant by the same author, whose subject is, however, the Autumn season and it differs in a significant number of details, both compositional and chromatic. The use of basic patterns to create several paintings was a widespread and established practice since Henri met de Bles. Mostaert was not far behind, often using the trick of changing the colours in which the characters or minor details were completed, as well as with the reversal or re-composition of various parts of the general scheme. However, starting from an identical basic structure and achieving such original and autonomous results is extremely rare.
Marten RyckaertRiver Landscape
oil on panel
Expertise Luuk PijlMarten Ryckaert was born in Antwerp in 1587, with one arm only. His condition did not prevent him from becoming one of the most famous and skilled landscape painters of the 1600s, sometimes able to match the Brueghels' pictorial ability and use of color. He was a friendly man, refined, sophisticated and member of the Chamber of rhetoric: his human and social characteristics were reflected in his paintings. His unmistakable style is particularly highlighted in small-format landscapes, preferably on copper, according to the most established dictates of Flemish painting.
Christiaen van CouwenberghThe finding of Moses
Oil on panel
Signed and dated 1640
Published:Wolfgang C. Maier-Preusker, Christiaen van Couwenbergh (1604 – 1667) oeuvre und wandlungen eines hollaendischen caravaggisten, ed. Wallraf-Richartz-Jaharbuch – Band LII-1991.
We are grateful to Professor Wayne E. Franits to have confirmed the quality and the attribution of the workVan Couwenbergh was one of the leading Delft history painters during the first half of the seventeenth century, and his style was influenced by both the Haarlem and Utrecht history painters, as well as the Northern caravaggesque school.
Jan Brueghel II and Pieter van AvontLandscape with Holy Family
Oil on copper
Expertise K. ErtzMagnificent example of collaboration, following the widespread practice in Antwerp in the seventeenth century, between Brueghel the II as a landscape specialist and van Avont as a "staffage" painter, i.e. the painting of the characters. The composition is among the most famous of Brueghel the II and it was copied and imitated by many followers, due to its ability to combine the best sacred subject and the ideal landscape. By this way the evangelical episode of the rest from the escape into Egypt becomes the expedient to stage a nature with bright colors, with rich turquoise and aqua green accents, enhanced by a vast range of naturalistic details: from the rose garden to the right, to the fruits on top, from the deer that drinks in the crystalline stretch of water to the guinea pigs in the foreground. The very thin copper leaf on which the work - in perfect condition - was painted is of considerable size and it is likely that it was destined for the Spanish and Mexican market, according to a widespread commercial practice in vogue from the years '40 of the '600. Thanks to this practice the Flemish painting on copper of "brueghellian-style" had a diffusion and an unusual worldwide success. It is the undoubted ability of the "Brueghel style" to conquer the eye with such incredible ease, dissolving the most typical stylistic matter effortlessly and with infallible method, chiseling the details as in a goldsmith's work and always choosing a vibrant chromatic accord, with the objective to stimulate the gaze. The fat children who surround the Holy Family, then, add a further tone of delicacy to the scene, through an anecdotal and joyful attitude, full of "joie-de-vivre".
Adam van NoortMadonna and Child with Saint Joseph
>Oil on panel79,4 x 56,8 cm 1580 ca.
Archived in RKD as Adam van Noort.Defined by Van Mander in 1604 as a "very skillful painter," van Noort is part of the Flemish painting already influenced by Italian art. He was stranger to the prevailing fashion, Van Noort managed one of the most popular ateliers in Antwerp and he was able to cope with a large number of students, including those who later became great masters such as Rubens (from 1592) and Van Dyck, who also made a famous portrait of his teacher. Known for his alternating moods, his life as a libertine and, often, his violence, Van Noort was always conscious of the limitations and skills of his students, directing their careers also through the collaboration with the atelier of Otto Van Veen. His works were mainly biblical and of allegorical disobedience and portraits made for the Sint-Lucas gilde (the author was a member) have not been preserved. The work, part of the prestigious Goudstikker collection, is considered as of today one of the most significant - and certain of attribution - still in private hands. Despite the religious subject, the scene is treated with an extreme naturalism, aiming to portray a simple mother with a child in a moment of lyrical intimacy rather than something grand and academic. The sculpted cradle, together with details such as the cushion and the string of pearls on the Madonna's forehead, are remarkable for their realistic rendering. The paneggi, the incarnate and the architectures on the background, however, are clearly of Italian influence.
The Master with the ParrotMadonna with Child (Virgo Lactans)
oil on panel
1530 ca.The author takes his name from an in-depth article that the art historian Maximilian Friedlander dedicated him in 1948, where the scholar gathered a first number of works around a personality whose name was at the time unknown, but it turned out to be enough clear from a stylistic point of view. The curious nickname derives from the insistence and typicality that we can find in a certain number of works where the presence of a parrot is shown. However, as of today it is possible to assign to the artist a more varied and broader number of works, also thanks to the recent discovery of a Madonna and Child (without parrot) signed in full "Cornelis Bazelear Fecit" of unquestionable stylistic clarity. In addition to this, it has been hypothesized with ample plausibility that the painters working around and under Bazelaer constituted a substantial workshop which, between Antwerp and Bruges, carried out in a unitary style a series of devotional works, especially intended for the international market. The practice was very widespread also in other ateliers (Pieter Coeck, Joos van Cleve, etc.) and basically indicates a conception of the work of art as produced in two phases, a first theoretical conceived by the Master and a second one often realized by his students. In the best examples, like this one, the Master of the Parrot shows a delicate style, a wise synthesis between the Bruges tradition - still archaic - and the innovations of plasticism and the use of light that Pieter Coeck, Jan Gossaert and Quantyn Metsys were gradually introducing into the flemish painting of Antwerp. The pearly complexion, the intimate mother-son relationship and the meticulous details of the crown accentuate the refined devotional and symbolic tone, thanks to the contribution of the dark background from which the figures emerge as in a sacred vision.